Recently I heard that my friend Henriette is getting married. Henriette is famous for hating housework. As a wedding surprise, a mutual friend has called around asking people to send in “household tips” which she plans to put together in a book to give to Henriette at her wedding. This was my contribution.
The most valuable household tip I ever had came from a very special person, Dorothy Day. As a young single mother, a recent convert to the Catholic Church, she decided to spend her life practicing hospitality — feeding people who were hungry, finding places to sleep for people who had no home. In the early years these were mostly men out of work because of the Depression. It started in her own apartment. Later she found a building in lower Manhattan where she and a few friends opened a soup kitchen. They never preached to the people they fed — they just fed them, gave them clothes and made them feel welcome. Some stayed there until they died, and then she made sure they got a decent burial.
One of the stories about Dorothy that has been important in my life has to do with a woman who was going crazy trying to keep her house clean, take care of her large family, and receive many guests. She asked Dorothy for advice. Dorothy answered, “Lower your standards.”
That’s great advice but that isn’t my tip to you. My real tip is not to lower your standards, but to practice hospitality. I don’t mean you have to find outcasts living on the streets. I mean get to know people by inviting them into your home, inviting them for a meal or for dessert.
Interesting things happen when you practice hospitality. Here are a few:
1. Your house stays clean! It’s quite mysterious. There’s no better motivation for cleaning your house than knowing that guests are coming.
2. Your problems fall into perspective. When you invite people in and they start telling you their problems, your life doesn’t look so bad after all.
3. You pick up a few more household tips. As long as the dinnertime conversation doesn’t start to sound like a detergent commercial.
4. It’s great for your marriage. Hospitality is something that you both do together.
5. It increases your circle of friends.
6. It makes you realize what’s really important in life. If you start the day wringing your hands because your windows aren’t clean, there’s something wrong! Lighten up! Chill out! Cool your jets! The most important thing in your life is the people in it. We’ve been living on this street for 15 years and we almost never wash our windows, and our neighbors still smile at us (though they probably think we’re a little strange).
Jim and I both wish you a life full of friends, happy evenings, delicious meals, and plenty of time for the things that matter most.
all the best,
[written August 1997]