“Peace is our gift to each other.”
– Elie Wiesel
We hosted a large reunion of old friends for the 4th of July weekend. As usual, the week before found us tackling a long list of neglected home repairs. At one point, while my husband hammered in a nail, I told him we’d probably live in squalor if it weren’t for our house guests.
Maybe that’s not strictly true, but we do find hospitality to be highly motivating when it comes to maintenance chores.
One day before the first guests turned down our long driveway, I decided to do something about the pantry shelves in our kitchen. A few weeks before we’d finally removed the flimsy bi-fold doors that never did stay on their tracks. Somehow I remembered an old pair of cream-colored curtains that my mother had sewed for me years ago. The tie-top panels had covered the sliding glass door in one of our first married homes, but then never quite worked for any of our windows after that. I’d been moving those curtains around, storing them at the back of various closets and drawers, for more than fifteen years.
We installed a curtain rod. We hung the curtains to hide our boxes of Cheerios, our tubs of coconut oil, and my messy collection of recycled glass containers. And they were perfect. As if they’d been made for just this space.
I texted my mom a picture and said do you remember these?
Yes, she said. Maybe it is sometimes a good idea to hold onto things.
So, yes, mothers do know best and simplicity is complicated. Give it away or hold onto it? I don’t always know.
Maybe it comes down to motivation. Are we holding on to something out of hope or fear?
There is a world of difference between I’m afraid I’ll need this one day and won’t have it and I hope one day I find a place for this beautiful thing.
I used to encounter advice on simple living and think won’t work for me. Things like, keep only the number of dishes necessary for each family member and wash after each use.
But what happens when you suddenly have thirty-five extra mouths to feed? Paper plates? That may be simple for me and my jar of dish soap, but it is not so simple for our budget. Or for the earth.
I prefer a large stack of plain white dinner plates collected from Goodwill and IKEA.
In our culture of excess, simplicity and hospitality can seem like oil and water. But I am learning, slowly learning, that they are not. Because what I most desire to share with my guests is peace.
There is no peace in excess. In overindulgence. In decadence.
Peace needs space in which to grow. It requires surrender and trust. Strangely, too much effort, even too much paper party décor, can snuff it out.
A little emptiness, a little imperfection, a little less … of everything. This is how to carve out space for another person.
There is also, in simplicity, a great deal of not knowing. Do I keep the curtains or not? Do I bake three desserts or will one suffice? To overwhelm someone with the stuff of our hospitality is to assume we know, in advance, what she needs.
But we do not know. So we give a little emptiness instead.
And we watch as emptiness becomes a place where every guest can be seen and heard.
And made welcome.