February 10, 2021

Into the Chaos

One of my dearest friends called me up last week and said, “I can’t take another weekend alone in my apartment. Can I come to see you this weekend?”

I paused for a moment and looked around: Toys covered the floor. I was pretty sure there was a bottle of leftover milk turning to yogurt under the sofa. And the dining table was piled high with things I’d meant to put away. Oh, and I still hadn’t taken down the few Christmas decorations I’d bothered to put up.

There was any number of reasons I could easily have given to tell my friend not to come: the pandemic, we had to work all weekend, the house was a mess, the guestroom was doubling as a project room, the bathroom wasn’t clean, I was feeling stretched thin. If I had told her any one of these things, she would have understood. After all, she is one of my dearest and oldest friends. She is as close to a sister as I have.

And yet, there was only one right answer in that moment. I replied, “If you want to step into the chaos with us, you are so very welcome.”

I don’t know where that phrase came from, but I’ve thought a lot about it since then.

I knew I couldn’t make my home “guest ready.” I also knew I couldn’t put our life on hold to entertain for the weekend. But most of all, I knew my friend needed a safe and welcoming space to get away.

So I did the only thing I knew to do: I invited her into the chaos.

I’ve been wondering ever since—what if we did that more often?

What if, instead of a list of ridiculous self-imposed expectations and obstacles that keep us from welcoming others into our lives, we simply decided to be honest? What if we invited people to step into the chaos with us?

I have a feeling people are waiting to be invited in. I want to believe that people long for a genuine connection, an honest relationship—one where when they ask how we are, we tell them: “not so good.” Or when they come into our homes, we look at the mess and tell the truth: “This is how it is, and you are so very welcome.”

Hospitality has always been central to how my husband Roberto and I have chosen to live our lives. When we were first married, I used to believe it was important to always keep a tidy house, not for myself, but to receive guests at a moment’s notice. Then, we grew up, and life got messier.

For a time, I stopped wanting to entertain. I didn’t have the ability to clear my schedule, create a perfect tableau, and cook a homemade feast. I just couldn’t do it.

I’ve learned that those things, while lovely, are unnecessary. They don’t matter to our guests—at least not to the guests worth hosting. Practicing hospitality and entertaining are two very different things. The latter comes with a long list of socially imposed requirements. The former requires only that we open our doors.

Honest hospitality begins when we let go of the self-imposed expectations and say, “Step into the chaos. You are so very welcome.”

2 Comments

  • I appreciate the distinction between “hospitality” and “entertaining”. I think if I had made that distinction clearer in my mind earlier on in life, I would have been far more hospitable.

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