The nondescript gray sedan pulled up at the house where we were staying at Rock Eddy, just as I was unloading the back of the Mazda. The woman driving is not the owner of the property or her daughter. I try to find her face in my brain, but no luck. She gets out of the car with a smile, and says how she had hoped to get over here before we arrived.
“I'm staying over there,” she points vaguely. “Tom said I could come over and take a look at this house, see, my husband and I are staying at Aunt Phoebe's Cabin, but we'd like to bring our kids next time, so.” Ah, this makes sense.
“Sure! Come in, look around.” I walk up on the porch and open the door. She glances around nervously in the front room.
“Are you sure? I don't want to intrude on your vacation.”
I persuade her to look. I talk about the pros and cons of this house versus the other ones on the property. She thanks me, we share a moment talking about this wonderful place we've found, and then she leaves.
I think about that: I don't want to intrude on your vacation.
That's just not who I am. I want people to intrude, frankly. Not in a criminal way or something, I don't want to be victimized, but I like intrusion. I pray for it, in fact. It's part of trying to be Benedictine, to offer hospitality to others. Come and intrude on my life.
Jake and I planned it this way. I wasn't a Benedictine at that point, back on our honeymoon, talking about our hopes and dreams, but really, I think I always was a Benedictine, and it just took me some time to figure out that it had a name. We sat on the patio of this B&B in Carmel, drinking the wine that would become my favorite Cabernet, the only Cabernet that doesn't make me flush like a drunk Irishman, and talked about what we wanted. It had everything to do with relationship. We wanted children, and we wanted our house to be one where our children and their friends felt reasonably welcome. We wanted friends, and we wanted our house to be their house. We wanted to be hospitable. Not in the gracious hostess kind of way, but more in the Catholic Worker kind of way. We wanted people to know they had a place at our place if they needed a place or were displaced.
We've done this many times, in fact. We had a friend whose lease was up and knew she'd be heading to finish her bachelor's degree in January but didn't have the means to rent someplace for three months. She lived with us and we learned a lot about how we might do better in the future. My father lived with us for months as he looked for a house, before my mother and sisters moved up from Texas. Then they joined him, which was a tight squeeze because the house we own was pretty rough when we bought it, and we'd only lived there 2 years when they moved in. Rough is a nice way of putting it, frankly. It was a pit.
We worked on the place over the years and cleaned it up. We had some kids. And then Troy, whom I'd only gotten back in touch with about a month or so beforehand, taking care of his son while he worked as a laborer, well, he needed a quieter place than with the party friends whose floor he'd been sleeping on. He needed a cleaner place than his cousin's, if his son was going to live with him. And he was craving a room with a door that shut and that he didn't share with anyone else. So Troy moved in last July 4 and stayed for 2 ½ months.
And that's when I learned what hospitality really was. He wasn't an easy roommate, and he pushed boundaries with us. On the other hand, I did a lot of talking with him at 3 in the morning at my kitchen table, he was quick with a laugh and a story and wanted to find ways to repay us all the time. I think—no, I know—his time in my house, with my family, was a powerful spiritual retreat for him. It was for me, too. As flawed as it was, as broken as all the people involved were (and still are), we made a go of it because he needed us and really, we kind of needed him, just not in the same ways.
He floats in and out of our lives now. Right now he's waxing again—it looks like his relationship with his son's mother is crumbling like a bad tooth. He was at my door at 3 am Friday morning with a backpack packed full and his concrete boots tied to it. Cops had been involved at the apartment that was in his name...but where she was in charge. Could he stay?
You stayed here before, I'd told him earlier in the week when the crumbling started. You were in this place and are part of this place, are part of who we are and what this house is. If you need it, you are welcome.
Who's next? My sister is moving back to St. Louis and even if her official address might be at my mom's for a while, I expect she will spend some nights (unless Troy has actually moved in? I have learned to play these games one day at a time). And more minor hospitality goes on all the time, people on my porch, people on my back deck. Nothing is Martha Stewart, nothing is polite society cocktail party, but everything I do strives to be hospitable. Because I need intrusion. I need you to come any hour of night, come walking up my porch steps and tap on my door and tell me, tell me again, that we need each other, we people of the earth, we need to be home and go home and find home, and if that home is a broken-down wooden porch that needs a paint job or a solid old 3 story red brick foursquare with a family of very loud people and a woman who will slice a tomato at her rickety kitchen table and listen to you, really listen, and not judge no matter what you say, then I need you too. Come home.