Friday, June 15, 2012

Finding Hospitality

(We shall return for our last Point Reyes post next time)

While I was spending the day at the Bluegrass Music Festival yesterday, I ran into an acquaintance who asked me to stop by her camp and have a look at her instrument, giving my opinion. When we arrived, she offered me a bottle of water. I declined, but really appreciated that act of hospitality, probably even more than that simple act would seem to warrant. It made me think about how loaded and significant the act of offering food and drink is in human societies. Accepting refreshment from someone creates a subtle obligation. Making lunch plans in front of, but around a casual drop-in visitor is a strong hint that she should go ahead and leave now. When people invite you to join their potluck that happens to be going on, you can assume that they like you. 

Later that afternoon of the same day, I joined a small circle of musicians who were jamming. I was very pleased to see a friend of mine there also who was listening in, and I pulled up a chair to sit beside him to enjoy the music. This is the cast of characters:
  • The Musicians, a group of about a half-dozen professionals with one “Lay Musician.”
  • The Camp Hosts,  2 or 3 people who had set up the camp area, within which some of the Musicians had set up tents in. The Lay Musician was also one of the Camp Hosts.
  • The Friend, with whom I have played music in the past, and with whom I have spent many hours sitting at the edge of a jam enjoying the music. The Friend is also a close relative of the Lay Musician and acquainted with the Camp Hosts and the Musicians.
I knew none of the musicians personally. I knew the Camp Hosts casually.

When I stepped up to the edge of the circle and sat down, I expected nothing. Camp Hosts cannot be expected to open their larders to every jam listener who steps in uninvited to enjoy the music that is taking place in their space. There can be dozens of listeners! I know how to be a polite guest at something like this. Don’t talk during the music, don’t make tune requests, and don’t presume privileges that are not offered.

The music was exceptional, and it seemed as if they all had enough tunes in their heads to play 4 days straight and never repeat one. The circle was very tight, The Friend and I were very close in, and there was no other audience except an occasional passer-by, or a band member who wandered around like a zombie after his power nap. Occasionally, The Friend and I would ask the name of a tune, ask where it came from, compliment the rendition, or have other brief interactions with the Musicians between songs.

I was there for about 3 hours. During the latter part of this, The Friend got his instrument and joined in with the Musicians. I knew I was out of my league, totally, so I was not even tempted to get mine! At various times, bags of dried fruit, crackers and candy were offered and set on the ground at the Musician’s feet. Beers were offered, and a Camp Host offered a couple of locally made fruit ciders to the Musicians.

I am really quite good at picking up social cues, reading body language, and understanding the feel of what’s happening in a group around me. I know how to interpret the moment that I have been included, however casually, in a group. The bag of dried fruit is waved slightly in my direction as it is being passed around, brief eye contact is made with eyebrows lifted a bit as the sack of crackers passes by. “Water, anyone?”  is said, and my eye is would be caught in the glance going around the group. This never happened, not once. I was, basically, ignored. 

One of the sayings I have adopted over the years is that it is unmet expectations that causes disappointment. When you go into a situation expecting nothing, you will not be let down; anything you get then, will be a pleasant surprise. So I will not say I was hurt or disappointed, since I did not expect anything. But what it made me understand was how much, how much more than any of them could have realized, a simple act of hospitality, the token offering of food or drink, could have made one person, me, feel welcomed and acknowledged.

I think about times when I may have been guilty of this very same thing. I may offer my guests or friends at a campout, festival, or reenactment an appetizer, a drink, or a water bottle. Or I may assume, rightly, that they know they are welcome to my provisions. But that other person who has come with the friends, or has stumbled on to my camp and stays to listen to my music, may really appreciate the offer of my hospitality, even if it’s just a drink of water or a pretzel.

I like to try to find something good out of every experience, and I can say now that I am glad the afternoon passed as it did. It would have given me a very warm feeling to have been included in the small food and drink hospitalities there, and I wouldn’t have forgotten it. But I think I prefer to remember the event as a good reminder of how my hospitality could make someone else feel.

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