I’m not a particularly good guest. It takes considerable skill to relax enough to enjoy another’s space and it’s a knack that has eluded me for a good long while. I think learning how to be a guest is akin to learning how to receive a compliment – which I finally got a few months ago: If you don’t come from a point of grace, you’ll never learn the skill.
Now, I’m not talking the basics of keeping my space neat or stripping the beds when I leave or bringing a small gift and leaving with profuse thanks. I know those things. What I seem to be incapable of doing is relaxing enough to welcome the bounty of generosity that is part and parcel of opening one’s home and schedule to me.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m much more comfortable being the planner, keeping my fingers on everything from sleeping arrangements to food preparation. I am more than happy to open our home to family, friends and soon to be friends. There’s nothing I like better than a table ringing with laughter, movement in and out of the house, a flow of energy and many extra hands with clean up.
But when it’s my turn to be the guest, I have to consciously let go of the need to be in charge – to cede the general planning to my hosts and focus only on specific planning for the outings necessary for a guest/host partnership to be successful. Sometimes, it’s a scary proposition. You need to be ready for periods of silence, to be conscious of your hosts’ need to be about their regular activities, to assure them that you are absolutely fine on your own, among their things and mean it. Sincerely.
I’ve had a nice practice run in being a guest the last few days. MDR and I visited family in South Carolina — our first time in the state and the last of the 13 original colonies to be crossed off our list. The weather couldn’t have been better, the laughter couldn’t have been more contagious and the food, well I had chicken and waffles for the first time, so it couldn’t have been better.
I actually had to give myself a pep talk about this trip. A mirro chat in which I reminded myself I was capable of relaxing and being in the moment. That I was generous enough to allow other people to care for me as they showed their affection and love. That I bring good energy with me and leave a bit of it behind. So I took a deep breath, headed out on the road with the man of my dreams and did everything I possibly could to fulfill those reminders.
In the doing, I learned that being the guest gave me time and space to gain perspective on these places so new to me. I looked at older buildings in dappled shade and southern heat and saw them, really saw them. I took photos that pleased me, when it pleased me and then I made myself a little happier when I edited them into the vision that I had in my head.
I took a breath, I took on silence, and I think in the end being the guest was the best gift I’ve given myself in a very long time.
Laura Reeth lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with the man of her dreams. With kids off at college, she no longer plays the role of active, day-to-day parent, and has moved into the complex understanding-parent-of-nearly-adult-children role. The main difference is she gets more sleep now.
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