True hospitality, southern or otherwise, is a grace that welcomes people into a home, or a special event, warmly, with unstudied kindness and care.
Hospitality, we know, is not limited to geography. By definition, the term "southern hospitality" evokes images of convivial gatherings, tables abundant with food, easy smiles and a welcome where no one is a stranger - but that can be practiced and felt in any part of the country, or the world and, indeed, is.
I had the occasion most recently to be the fortunate recipient of such kindness while recuperating my second week post-surgery. A college friend, a sorority sister, insisted - kindly - and with no excuses, that I would be staying with her family about 30 minutes south of my home. In the process, she made it abundantly clear that there was no wound she could not administer to, there was no expected schedule, rest was definitely on the agenda and 'house rules' included "no make-up, pants with no zippers and pajamas." That special descriptive, knowing there was a surgical wound in my back, made me laugh - but was so appreciated!
Dare I mention the food? I was not only fed, I was entertained by their fabulous, adventurous mealtimes (which I understand are standard in their home) - one evening of make-your-own poke bowls (who does this? Well, I'm going to start because it was fantastic, delicious fun) - sushi grade tuna, avocado, steamed rice, spring onions, various add-in's - it was like an ice cream bar, only better! Then came braised short ribs over the homemade pasta that my friend and I made with her pasta machine - laughing the entire time because my hanging of the noodles couldn't keep up with pasta production as noodles kept coming out of the machine! This is how they enjoy meals as a family and it was such a treat to be part of all of that.
If I dig a little deeper, the truth is: it wasn't just a necessity for me to be have some assistance during this recovery, in this case - it was a restorative visit.
My friend is a very successful global serial entrepreneur. She has built companies, been a change agent in her industry, lectures, sits on boards and spends a great deal of her time - when there was no pandemic - traveling the world for business. In fact, were it not for the quarantine, and travel bans, this opportunity to spend so much quality time with my clever, funny, ingenious friend, may never have happened. It has been a rarity throughout the years to see her very often - and, typically, it's over in just a couple of hours. Her invitation to take care of me was really an invitation for us to laugh, share stories, and reconnect as much as it was to reassure me that I would be in good hands.
Her husband, too, was equally gracious - his seemingly endless food runs, clearing my car off after a full snow, moving my car back and forth, sharing his TV shows, and being conversant with me were all things that made me feel extraordinarily welcome in their home. Her children were the same way - exactly as their parents - and, while I've known them since they were all born - that is not an automatic license that they will want to engage, but they did. I learned about their jobs, studies, their travel stories and interests - and was reminded of just how interesting they are.
It's just been a couple of days since I left their wonderful home, but I miss them all very much. Perhaps it was the pitter-patter of little paws, or the anticipation of a shared meal or the excitement of choosing our next Netflix show. Or maybe it was the unconscious experience to learn more about my friend and rediscover why we connected for all these years. You know you love a person, but sometimes being reminded about every piece of gold dust that gives them that collective sparkle and appeal is just what we need to remind us how special they are.
Because my husband lives nearly 750 miles from me, I have adjusted to temporarily living alone. For a few years now, I believed I was 'just fine.' As humans, we do this to accommodate our situations - I have an elderly mother about an hour north of here, 90 percent of my clients are nearby - it seemed perfectly normal that my days and evenings of eating alone were justifiable under the circumstances. It never occurred to me that I was truly aching for the regular cadence of stimulating company and conversation but, I was wrong - another self-revelation from this amazing experience of hospitality.
Hospitality given from the heart is not an experience limited by the needs of food, drink and shelter. It is clearly a bold act of kindness, a selfless act of outreach and accommodation that not only serves a purpose, but fills a heart. I am indebted, indeed. I look forward to seeing my friends, again, renewed by my time with them, laughing at the stories we shared, warmed by the family moments, and reminded of what it means to have a life well-lived while being well-loved. Thank you, Keating family, you are remarkable.