If we’re going to talk about community and hospitality, we need to acknowledge that what we’re talking about is a mutual and reciprocal exchange of selves. The hostess needs to lower her expectations of herself. She needs to be able to offer her family home as it really is, including the juice-stains and crayon drawings on the wall and the strange smell in the bathroom. The guest needs to act more like a member of the family and less a privileged VIP. The best occasions of hospitality are the ones where everyone takes the time, first, foremost and up-front, simply to enjoy each others’ company and be together. And where after that is over, everyone pitches in to make sure that the kitchen is not an inviting environment for fruit-flies and rats. The occasions where the adults have time to engage in some much-needed intelligent conversation, but the guest also takes the time to go off and teach something to the children or look at the Playmobil world that the kids built in Mommy’s closet. If hospitality is done right it provides an opportunity for single people to take some of the weight off the shoulders of married people and also an opportunity for married people to take some of the loneliness off the shoulders of single people. We have complementary needs and complementary gifts. In theory, at least, it’s a perfect solution.
Can this work? Not without frustrations. The fact is that living with other people is a fraught enterprise—even if it’s only for a couple of days. We go in with an expectation of relief and bliss, and then at some point we find out that we’ve really been invited to is a Cross-carrying party. We have to step up. We’re expected to sacrifice, and to offer solidarity, and to get outside of ourselves, and it’s nothing like the long-awaited vacation that we planned or anticipated. But if you can get into that vibe…if you can put yourself aside…if you can be there for the other, and make it into a form of Communion, then yes. It can work. But not without sweat."