Woman at counter, Milan

A warm smile and a hot cup of Joe are always available at the Coffee Station in Milan, Ohio.

 

A few years back, I traveled across Ohio, managing Ohio Chautauqua 2017: The Natural World. Each night the community would gather under a great big red-and-white-striped tent to listen to local music and take part in an on-stage living history performance. That pre-pandemic world was very different from this summer, to say the least. I was not yet married, for one thing, and had a different name. But the normal-ness of that summer contrasts with this one on a different scale—an obvious statement by now. You’d be hard-pressed to find crowds of 200-500 people don’t gather under red-and-striped tents this summer, and now many people are experiencing myriad other—and much worse—things. 

My time on the road that year was punctuated by indelible conversations and experiences with interesting people in every small city or village we went to.

People were kind, and showed us true hospitality.

Although this took place in a time that seems to be part of a distant past—one in which we took for granted the friendly handshake, the lively impromptu coffee-shop conversation, and the in-person community gathering that took place without fear of contracting a potentially deadly disease—something in this experience still rings true.

Hospitality—going out of your comfort zone to make a stranger feel welcomed and a part of community—is still a resource we can draw upon, and we need to draw on it often now if we are going to create a post-pandemic world worth living in.

Now, as then, mere hospitality and kindness don’t have to be expressed in grand gestures. Hospitality happens online and in person, as we interact with people. Let them see the face of kindness in you. And when you see them—masked up and at a socially responsible distance, or on a Zoom call—try to see the face of kindness in them. It makes a difference, especially in this painfully different summer.

Tomorrow’s post will be the Pathways article I wrote a year later, about my experience on the road with Ohio Chautauqua and the “radical hospitality” I experienced long the way.

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