“That boy is your company. And if he wants to eat up that tablecloth, you let him, you hear?” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
As Harper Lee shows in her timeless book, To Kill a Mockingbird, hospitality can be described as tending to the needs of your guests, regardless of what those “needs” are. Dictionary.com defines it as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers”. I’d like to add two more ideas into the mix: only receiving said guests if you are able to extend them that high level of comfort, and only being a guest if you’re sure your presence is appreciated. Hospitality is akin to generosity in that one must give of one’s comforts freely to be truly hospitable. I feel like this can be an unfair exchange of energy, however.
I don’t often have company. I have my life a certain way, and I am protective of my space. I find it incredibly draining to have people over, so I tend to only invite people over when I am entirely sure I can show them a good time. If I’m unable (or unwilling) to offer my guests the proverbial tablecloth for dinner, then I just don’t invite them. Part of being hospitable is knowing what you’re capable of, and sometimes my capability is zero. I am not very comfortable with uneven exchanges of energy, and restrict my home to those I know will not take more than they give. Sounds harsh and not terribly hospitable, and it kind of is. I’ve found, though, for my own well being, I must be sure of these things in order to keep my home a safe environment.
However, there is the other part of hospitality, and that’s being a good guest. I always attempt to bring some sort of “gift in kind” if I’m invited somewhere, whether it be a bottle of wine, some dessert, or some flowers. I am acutely (and probably painfully) aware of where my welcome ends, and respect that fact. I am always mindful of the aforementioned exchange of energy, and I try to feel as though I put at least as much time or energy (or money) into visiting someone as they did to prepare to have me.
I guess the long and short of this essay is that I’ve found it difficult to be hospitable, and that’s fine, I suppose. I think it’s more important that I take care of myself before I start to try to take care of others. Unless my well is full, it’s hard for me to offer anyone else a drink!