We had a party a few weeks back. Nothing fancy: chili and a fire and a few friends under the stars.
I soaked some beans and chopped the garlic. Browning the venison, I opened cans of tomatoes and spiced it by the palmful, letting the chili simmer in my biggest stock pot. Slipping orange slices into cider with a cinnamon stick and a few cloves, I set it to warm and pulled out every mismatched bowl and coffee mug we own. A stack of cotton napkins, a jar of spoons, a cooler of beer, and we were set.
Before long, the kitchen was crowded and the counters laden with pumpkin desserts, cornbread, and fresh salsa, but the chili and cider were all I prepared, and it was like the loaves and fishes: enough and then some for the forty-odd friends who turned up.
The full moon was so bright the children chased each other into the evening, and I studied the joy on your face. It was almost your anniversary, and you shone like newlyweds. (Was it the starlight?) We don’t even know each other that well, but you were so happy to share the night with us, and isn’t that the essence of community, bearing witness to each other’s loves and losses, great and small?
Standing in our farm house kitchen, where papers clutter the fridge and the windows always need washing, another beautiful woman with exquisite makeup suggested I write a food blog. She wasn’t joking, but I laughed: I didn’t even make most of this feast, and there wasn’t one Pinterest-worthy frame as far as the eye could see. She was the one who could throw a party: their wedding was an affair so elegant I’d wished I’d bought a dress and worn pantyhose, but bare legs and barely pulled together is how we roll, and neither she nor her spectacular eleven piece band seemed to mind.
I couldn’t pinpoint what was so charming about our simple supper, but I thanked her all the same, offered her a glass, and we talked and laughed into the night.
I suspect there’s a world of difference between entertaining and hospitality, and I wonder if fear of perfection keeps us from reaching out at all.
Our neighbors are the most hospitable people I know. Their house and budget are small, and with five kids running around, little is ever perfect, but few homes are so warm, and there’s always an extra place at their table.
We made our closest friends–after years of social strike outs turned this weary introvert gun-shy and grumpy–because they were relentless welcoming. “I’ve got leftovers. Can we bring lunch?” “Come over for dinner tonight?” “I’m at the grocery store. What if we stopped by with pizza before the game?”
It’s a risk to put yourself out there like that–vulnerable, repeatedly, and exposed. Last minute is not everyone’s bag, but it was the way to my heart, since best laid plans do so often go awry, particularly when you factor in small children. I can’t count how many play dates and dinners were thwarted by sickness, never to be rescheduled.
“What are you doing right now/later/tonight/Thursday/this weekend?” might just be the key to connection in an isolating age–not formal groups, party themes, or expensive ingredients.
Inviting, showing up, and breaking bread: it’s incarnation and alchemy. Ordinary moments hallow; common elements transform. Those with eyes to see take off their shoes.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:13-35)