One of my friends from student days told me about the occasion when her parents (out in the wild country of Lincolnshire), having completely forgotten an earlier arrangement, had been one Sunday visited unawares by family friends, expecting the high tea of sandwiches and cakes to which they had been invited.
Alison detailed how her mother had feigned a laid-back nonchalance, artfully conjuring up a full meal of dainty things out of the store cupboard, chocolate biscuits, and trifle, from the side of her mouth hissing out desperate instructions to her co-conspiring daughters and husband, while maintaining a light and friendly touch in welcoming conversation.
The visiting guests left three hours later, replete and non-the-wiser, it is said.
In recurring dreams, too, I have suffered the undignified panic of being totally unprepared for a social gathering. The first guests arrive at an empty, tired house (which oddly resembles the home of my maternal grandparents, whose real-life preparation was carefully planned and more generous than they could afford, albeit infused with anxiety that they would not match up to the standards of their returning daughter).
In this dream-world (at Nanna’s in the 1950s, or identifiably at the first home we bought as young-marrieds in the mortgage famine of the mid 1970s) my pantry is empty, my glassware sparse and unmatched, and my rising panic visceral. Sometimes I attempt to call in trusted guests to help me to feed the five-thousand; sometimes they just stand around shrugging their shoulders: “What could we have expected of her?” before slouching away, several embarrassing hours later.
My real-life, waking friends are surprised by the intensity of my self-reproach in these dreams (and beyond). They find our hospitality warm and comfortable, however idiosyncratic, and they have come to know what to expect of us, in a good way.
Yet only very recently have I begun to dare to affirm:
“I am enough”;
“I have enough to offer to myself and others”;
“Welcome, just as I am, just as you are”.
This stage of my life, strangely or not so strangely, has led me to a place where what I offer to myself and to others becomes not smaller/meaner but bigger/more spacious. Less self-protective; more genuinely sharing, at the same time as – at last – becoming more safely aware of the need for appropriate boundaries, for each and every one of us.
Yet also feeling a freedom with letting those boundaries be porous, organic, evanescent – like hedges luxuriously cloud-pruned, or like gates set within a fence that is no longer there.
[One day I will insert here a lost image of just that, a gate swinging proudly between its gateposts, heedless of the fact that the Fence that it punctuated is no longer there. I have looked and looked among my Scourie, Scotland photos…]
Yesterday, while I was serving up supper for the two of us, at the end of a long, hot and satisfying day apart, one of my dancing friends – a young Polish biologist with an eight-month-old babe, arrived unexpectedly and unannounced at our door, smiling and ready for our company.
It was only well into our meal – we hungrily eating, she happy with peppermint tea and lemon, and the little one content with chewing and waving a tiny wooden spoon that Jim had recently made from willow and oiled with linseed (both acceptable to my friend) – that we disambiguated the situation, and realised that their cheerful arrival was three days early.
She was anticipating an event for which I had offered our downstairs rooms to a score of dancers, whose explorations of improvised music and contact improvisation had been given – two years earlier – the delightful moniker ‘Wygibaski’ that is: “dancing in an extraordinary way”. By this very girl, and now adopted by the ongoing group as our brand and our purpose.
And as for provisioning the unexpected guests (who weren’t expecting a meal anyway): all that was required was a preview of our dancing space – in which I had already displayed the original Wygibaski poster from June 2016 – and the meadowy garden, both well received by mother and child alike.
And after a quick snack-at-breast for the little one, she proceeded – in the open, organic space of that room which we have variously called the Garden Room, The Annexe, and (in an exploratory way) The Soul Centre at Dalefield – to take her first supported steps as the human biped that she is… “Ant walking!” as her mother exclaimed.
And this poem from Rumi, which was first given to me by Ruchiraketu and Sagaraghosa at Cambridge Buddhist Centre in October 2012, during a life-enhancing course on Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. Transcribed here for a mirror triptych, which I hung in our downstairs toilet in 2017.
Welcome to all past, present and future visitors to my guest house, real and metaphoric (and here I wrote “metamorphic” first, being of a geological bent).
“Being of a geological bent” – that’s another story.