A wonderful example of Hospitality comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Bilbo, preparing for his afternoon tea, hears a knock at his door. Upon opening it, he sees a dwarf – one whom he had never met nor knew was coming. As a properly-raised Hobbit, Bilbo invites the new arrival to join him. Over the next few paragraphs (the book doesn’t indicate the passage of time between each arrival), a total of thirteen dwarves arrive, and all are appropriately provided with food, drink and even entertainment (if you consider a Hobbit in a daze entertainment). Bilbo’s response of hospitality was not one-way: there was a gift given in return for his generosity – the dwarves did do all of the cleanup for him, although they tormented him about breaking his dishes.
Throughout the distant times of our Ancestors, Hospitality was perceived as the highest, most important of virtues. From nearly every culture, stories abound of traveling and disguised Deities, seeking shelter and comfort during their travels. From Greek mythology comes the story of Baucis and Philemon. Zeus and Hermes wander the lands in disguise, and knock at each door they come to. All of the doors are slammed shut in their faces, save Baucis and Philemon. Even though they were poor, they provided as best they could. In thanks for this, and as punishment for all the others, the town was destroyed and a temple built with Baucis and Philemon as warders until the end of their days.
Such a common and necessary virtue for our Ancestors, but is it still? Has the level of violence within our culture changed the state of hospitality? Is it possible to be a host to a stranger any longer? These days we don’t seem to have random visitors wandering the ways that need shelter or food – but we still have opportunities.
In the Dedicant’s Handbook, Hospitality is defined as “Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humor, and the honoring of a gift for a gift.” Hosting and guesting can come in many forms.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a disaster of a daily commute, as it can take up to two hours to travel 40 miles. Because of this, an interesting idea was born – casual carpooling. Any driver willing to participate goes to a specific place and picks up passengers going to the same area of the city and the same in the evening.
Another source for host/guest opportunities is from the connections that occur on the Internet. Although we may call those we only know online (so they could be axe-murderers as their day jobs ;)) friends, they are just words on a screen; the true person behind the words is still an unknown. I have been fortunate in that I have hosted one of those ‘internet friends’ in my home, acting as driver and tour-guide, and had another invite me to a gathering at his home, as well as reciprocating offers from others for crash space when visiting their hometown/state/country.