What Guests Leave Behind

The laughter started mid-way through our origami lesson. Kaori, a Japanese college student who was living with us for part of one summer, was attempting to teach my family how to make a paper crane. As we fussed with folds, hopelessly crippling the graceful birds, she started to giggle. “What’s so funny?” we asked her. “In Japan, we learn this in kindergarten,” she replied, obviously implying the average Japanese pre-schooler could fold paper circles around us.

That laughter was just a small part of what Kaori gave us that summer. Like the other guests we’ve had, she gave us a glimpse into the world viewed from a distinctly different vantage point. We’ve had many international guests in our home – Viet Nam, Togo, China, Ghana, India, and Japan, among others – and each time, our little corner of the earth has seemed to grow larger as we’ve understood more of how other people live.

But the same holds true for other friends who have shared a meal in our home. Theresa Amabile, a researcher in the area of creativity, has said: “One of the best ways to stimulate children’s minds is to bring interesting adults home.” That adult might be an international student. Or it could be an old friend, or one in the making. Everyone has the potential to stretch us.

It seems that hospitality is a dying art. I fear it’s yet another casualty of our busy lifestyles. That would be more than just a shame; it would be a further disconnecting in an already polarized society. Most cultures across the world hold hospitality as a high value. We (and our kids) miss out on so much when we're too busy to invite others into our homes and lives.

When guests leave our houses, they take with them the warmth of kindness and the fullness of good food and conversation. But they leave behind so much more. Sometimes it’s a skill like origami. Most often, what they leave us is the wonderful freshness of discovery – of new ideas, words, interests, and stories. We find the world to be more varied and colorful than we had thought. And we often discover a budding friendship.

Imagine. All that, just for the cost of a little time and a home-cooked meal.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter