Last summer I spoke with my cousin, Marcia, who had just retired from teaching elementary school in the Bronx.
Unbelievably, this retirement was a reluctant move for her. As we chatted, she shared her concerns about how to spend her future years. What would she do? Would she find something to do of value? Was there a spot where she was needed?
I assured her that things would fall in place after retirement. Half-heartedly, I used old cliches to tell her that she was valuable and would certainly find something fulfilling: "Life begins at retirement," "You retire from work but not from life." I explained to her the ups and the downs of my own retirement: "We all go through some down time." But as you read on, you'll see that Marcia didn't take the time for down time.
A few weeks later, Marcia called back.
"During my retirement I want to enjoy, give to and celebrate those I know and love, and not just volunteer with people that I don't know and don't know me," she said.
The thought squeezed my heart. I managed to quietly reply, "It sounds wonderful."
Marcia went on to explain her feelings, and what she had discovered about the importance of getting together, giving time, sharing meals and enjoying each other's company. She called it "The Spirituality of Hospitality."
I was taken aback a bit. Oh busboy, the Spirituality of Hospitality. I had never thought of it - what a connection. What could be more spiritual than inviting people to your home, preparing nourishing food for them, talking to them and giving your attention to them? The words "Spirituality of Hospitality" bring to mind similar feelings: giving, kindness, doing, offering, providing, warmth, charity and of course, generosity.
Now hospitality, that's my business. Why hadn't I ever thought of this before? I wonder if any of us thinks about the spirituality of what we do? I wonder if any of us think about hospitality as a way of showing respect and a way to care for people, with no return required or expected? I knew there was a reason I loved this industry.
Let's think about it. It's easy to see the spirituality of, say, the soup kitchen, but do we see that spirituality in everyday hospitality? Cooking the Easter eggs; making the raisin sauce for the ham; preparing that special recipe of coconut shrimp your son likes; the special attention paid to making a strawberry pie for your visiting guests; the extra packet of carrots added to your child's lunch; the cooks and chef and servers that day after day put together food and prepare the setting for others to relax and enjoy; the meals in hospitals and nursing homes carefully prepared to nourish the sick. To practice the Spirituality of Hospitality is to bring comfort to others.
After talking to Marcia, my mind was full of my life: the many, many hours in the kitchen, the dinners, the meals, the friends. Small tasks and old jobs began receiving new meanings.
Think about it: The Last Supper, Passover, the Wedding at Cana, the loaves and the fishes. Hospitality is a part of our spiritual past.
As a food columnist, spirituality was kind of a hard word to interpret. It is different for every person. Spirituality, to me, is that warm feeling I get when the right thing happens. Just being aware of the thought is helping me to see spirituality in everyday hospitality. I am now aware of this Spirituality of Hospitality whenever I am welcomed to a friend's home, when someone invites me to spend time with them or invites me out to lunch, or when someone prepares great food for me. I hope to feel it now when I welcome someone new into my home, when friends sit around the table laughing over empty plates, when I wash the Easter pots and pans or when I work on a dinner that raises money for a good cause.
I had trouble writing this article because I was not sure how to advance these ideas. I knew I was onto something important here, but I didn't want to oversimplify the message or loose it in sentimentality. Maybe just giving consideration to this new view of hospitality is enough.
So, with Easter upon us, hopefully all the work, all the planning, all the preparation, all the fun, all the family and all the friends will now have a little extra meaning for each of us as we keep in mind the Spirituality of Hospitality. It's a great thought for retirement, and a great thought for life. Thanks, Marcia.
Where does the Easter bunny go for vacation? All bunny.
Where does the Easter Bunny get his eggs? The eggplant.
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