Friendship Abroad, or, The Limits of Hospitality

12 Jul

 

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Rule of Life #48: Family has to take you in, friends don’t. This can be an occasion for experiencing profound grace. Then again, it can become object lesson on the limits of hospitality—something I found out on my first trip to Scotland. No matter how warmly and sincerely invitations are given, always assume they have a short shelf life. Also, never plan to consume the full contents of that bottle.

We traveled to St. Andrews, where friends of ours were shepherding a flock of undergraduates on a semester abroad. Before they left, they invited us to take full advantage of their situation. “Come, stay as long as you want, we’d love to see you,” said the Missus. So, I made plans to do that. G had only a week off work, but I intended to stay a full month and use St. Andrews as a staging point for exploring the country.

The first week was wonderful. We rambled over stone streets, drank in pubs, and ate batter-coated haddock and chips on chilly sidewalks. There were graveyards to wander and towers to climb. G wrestled with our friends’ three small boys in the den of the large rental house. When my back spasms allowed, I ran along the Lade Braes, where flowers were just emerging along the banks. Before G had to head back home, we spent the night in Edinburgh at a resort hotel and observed a formal Scottish wedding in full swing—big hats and formal kilts everywhere. When we came back from dinner in town, the guests had shed heels and jackets and were ecstatically belting out Journey (“Ana way ye wan’ oot, tha’s the way ye need oot, ana way ye wan’ oot!”)

Then I returned alone to the house called Braetrees and found that something in the atmosphere had changed. The Doctor spent hours on intercontinental phone calls, interviewing for a promotion that the Missus wasn’t sure she wanted him to take. She was balancing the boys’ homeschool curriculum with an ongoing conversation about a change in her own job. A difficult family member’s arrival loomed in the near future. And, of course, there were the endless minutia of managing twenty affluent undergrads far from home and parents in a town where the drinking age is 18.

Over the next week, I watched my welcome quietly fray and split at the seams. They said nothing—both the Doctor and his Missus are sweet and considerate people. But tense voices seeped under closed doors. Smiles grew more strained. Though I could see she was overwhelmed and unhappy, the Missus refused my offers to help with the boys’ schoolwork or to watch them so she and the Doctor could have an evening to themselves.

At the end of that week, on St. Patrick’s Day, I bought a bottle of very good Irish whiskey and brought it back to Braetrees. After dinner, as we cleaned the kitchen together, I announced that I would be going home early. I had already arranged for a flight in a few days’ time. They both protested. Did I feel unwelcome? Had they done something to hurt me? I said no, of course not, I just missed my husband and he missed me. Not quite a lie… more of an incomplete truth. But I didn’t think they could admit the unvarnished truth (or maybe even see it): They wanted me gone. They need to be alone and talk (maybe shout) about turning their lives upside down when they returned to Texas in three months. If I had pointed it out, they would have protested because they would have wanted to spare my feelings. But that’s how it was. So, I opted for what G calls “Maneuver X.” I took myself out of the equation. I cracked open the whiskey, we toasted to friendship, and drank until our faces went numb.

Two days later, after a tour of Stirling castle, the Doctor helped carry my bags to the train.

A journey can bring people closer. We have several friendships that grew stronger and deeper thanks to planes, trains, and automobiles. Unfortunately, this one slowly faded in the aftermath of that visit. We moved towns shortly after the family returned home. They were busy with kids; we were trying to find a new direction for our lives. Maybe it was a natural parting of the ways. But I can’t help feeling the best of it was left at Braetrees, maybe hanging in a closet or fallen behind a dresser—a once-loved cardigan that somebody forgot to pack. It was warm, and treasured, and I miss it.

St Andrews

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