A long-time friend recently invited me to breakfast at her house. We ate on her deck, sitting at a table strewn with fresh rose petals and lit with a candle and decorated with fine dishes and a flower.
I felt special, like an honored guest. We talked easily about all manner of topics, from family updates to culture and travel, from spirituality to human relationships. She is one of the most hospitable people I know -- and hospitality, one of the most beautiful and basic of human arts, can be a rare gift.
Historically, most cultures greatly valued hospitality and considered the relationship between guest and host to be important. For example, many cultures felt that once you took a person into your home, you must offer them your protection and comfort through food and rest.
During various travels, I've had opportunities to encounter a plethora of hospitable people. I've been invited to lunch with strangers on the beach. Another time, I was given money from kind man who thought I might not have enough for lunch.
Once, I was even welcomed to spend the night with a family I'd just met.
Far away from home, there was another family I'd often spend weekends with or join for dinner over the course of several months. Going to their house became the highlight of my week, a refuge more valuable to me than gold.
In our culture, hospitality has become more about brief entertainment and providing a sense of welcome through etiquette. The South is known for its hospitality, but even in the South, the idea of taking strangers into your home would be considered fool-hardy in a world that has become dangerous and less communal.
The guest also has a role to play, to respect the possessions of the host, to be agreeable and easy to serve, and to be on their way in a reasonable amount of time. The other aspect of hospitality is simply one of spirit, that of having a welcoming and kind presence that makes people comfortable when they are simply around you.
We've all been near others who saw opportunities to make people feel connected and part of the group but simply chose not to. If you've ever been in need of hospitality and received it from a thoughtful person who helped you find what you're looking for, made you feel wanted and enjoyed, offered ideas when you needed them, or simply listened to you when you needed to talk, you know the value of heartfelt hospitality.
This ancient art heals us, makes us feel truly human and connected to others, and reminds us that we are valued travelers on the earth.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a local therapist and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a self-help resource site. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.