I am aware, as I sit among the persistent paper remnants of a vacation abroad, that being in England has taught me a great deal, much of it scribbled onto notebooks and train tickets that I have yet to decipher.
Perhaps the most poignant lesson is that of true hospitality, something that I dream of doing one day in the distant future, when I have a large, many roomed house and a professional kitchen.
But part of the reason my husband and I were able to spend three weeks in England was that fact that he has so many welcoming, giving friends who were willing to share what they had now. Friends whom had never met me, and knew my husband during a time when the possiblity of a different Mrs. was far more probable.
And yet, here I was, time and again, on an unfamiliar doorstep, welcomed in with warmth and delightful English courtesy.
I had agonized for weeks before our departure over where to lay our heads. I wondered, secretly, whether friends not seen for many years would find our question of needing a bed for a few days too familiar, a rude Canadian assumption.
And I nervously awaited each new meeting, wondering if I would live up to expectation, if my mother had taught me well enough in the subtleties of gift-giving to strangers, and folding the linens correctly.
I needn’t have worried at all – for whether we were welcomed into a newly minted curate’s house, and woven cheerily into the daily routine of a bouncing baby or absorbed into the daily life of a stone house in Northumberland, with views that would make most land-hungry Vancouverites weep for joy, there was never a moment’s hesitation about making us feel at home.
These brave friends managed to work, feed their children, grocery shop, keep appointments, have friends and family over, all the while making us feel completely at ease and a part of their lives for a week or so. We were well fed, well rested and well entertained.
Even more remarkable, our hosts went out of their way to take us along to places sacred and local. We reaped the rewards of knowing the locals, from private tours of a bishop’s castle and a cathedral, to a secret garden much more affordable than the grand castle who stood next door in full view, to a hidden brewery and an ancient pub off the tourist trail.
I have been chastened, since arriving home, to rethink our little apartment and its shortcomings in light of the warmth with which we were received in England.
Now that I have seen what can be given gladly, and what great feasts and happy times can come of simple food and a bed to spare, I am looking forward to unfolding our hide-a-bed and filling our tiny kitchen with the aftermath of another friendly dinner. As a wise man once said:
Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”—
when you now have it with you. (Proverbs 3:28)
I may not have a mansion yet, or a stainless steel grill that can hold 54 pancakes at a time, but thanks to the kind and timely examples set by new friends abroad, I am ready to open our door with joy. It made all the difference in the world to be at home away from home, and even though it may be small, there’s more than enough home to go around.