When Sister Rose founded Peace House Community, it quickly became known as “the living room on Franklin Avenue”. Sister Rose wanted anyone who walked through the door to feel like they were going to a friend’s house where there was acceptance without invasive questions. People could share what they wanted or not share as they wanted.
While PHC has maintained Rose’ focus on hospitality and making everyone feel welcome, a recent comment by one of our community members reminded me that what counts as “welcoming” varies greatly. The comment came during a discussion about the three things you would want with you if you were stranded alone on an island (assuming the island had enough food and water to sustain you). The community member put up his hand, and with a big smile on his face, he said, “Nothing. I wouldn’t need nothing. You just described Heaven for me. Having what I need and not having to listen to people complain about their problems, not having to worry about how they’re going to try to get over on me … that’s all I need.”
From past conversations with the community member I know that he’s a loner who doesn’t trust anyone and only speaks when he needs to. In many ways his view of life is the complete opposite of Sister Rose’s. To her, welcoming others meant creating community that intertwined the lives of its members. It meant bringing a new person into an existing network, changing them from an outsider to a member. To him, by contrast, welcoming someone meant being willing to ignore them. It meant allowing them to enter your space without conditions or expectations, allowing them to set the agenda whether or not that agenda matched yours, and to leave them alone when they needed it.
His comment reminded me of how diverse people’s needs are. While there’s a limited number of basic needs, there’s a rich diversity of ways to meet those needs. Sometimes hospitality means making a fuss over your guests, but sometimes it means letting them in and then leaving them alone to work through whatever they brought with them. Sometimes it means staying up late talking and laughing, and sometimes it means letting them sleep.
All of this raises the question of how many people are truly aware of where their “living room” is. Many of us live manage to ignore or suppress stress, fooling ourselves into thinking life is fine while our blood pressure skyrockets and our muscles tire themselves out through constant tension. Even when we recognize our situation, we often can’t or won’t take the time to slow down and find the space (physical or otherwise) to relax. Each of us is different, so there’s no simple equation beyond
Awareness + Relaxation = My Living Room.
On behalf of Peace House Community, I wish each of you success in finding your own living room.
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.