My father drove with me to visit my mother. She has a second home “down south” where it is warm. I visit more often than he does because the sun’s warmth and light pierces deep beneath the surface of my skin. He seems happy to stay in the cold and dark of winter. In between dropping my dad back at her house after a run to the local thrift store and a run to the grocery store to stock the pantry, my dad says as he gets out of the car, “You’re a guest at this home and you need to be aware of that.” Those weren’t his exact words but that was his message. I responded with, “I’m not a guest here, I am a part of this home.”
I was raised to be polite, courteous and to appreciate being invited to someone’s home as a guest. I was a perfect guest … well, maybe not perfect but a good guest. I cleaned up the spaces I occupied, kept my room and bathroom up and was up for most adventures the host suggested. I was a good guest. My exchange with my father got me to thinking about being a good guest, a visitor, home.
When I was younger, not a young girl but younger than I am now, I’d let the host decide what we would do when I visited: where we would go, where we will eat, what they thought I should see so I’d take back more than postcards and photos of my time in their city and country. I’d ready myself for the unknown adventures they had planned. I was rarely disappointed by my host’s choices. They filled the days and nights with wonderful, interesting, new experiences I would take back home and talk about with those friends and family who didn’t make the trip with me. I enjoyed being a guest. I was on vacation and had a place to stay with locals, friends and family, who could and would show me the sights.
My father’s statement planted a growing sense of questioning and meaning of the words guest, visitor, home and the active participation that might accompany them. I wonder what it was and is like to have me as a guest and visitor. I never heard or asked my host’s experience of my visit. I was always invited back but I never really asked if they had as much fun and relaxation time as I had. My guess is that they had fun because they had to get out and do things they might not normally do and … that when they put me on the plane or waived good-bye as I drove away, they took an extra day or two to recoup from my visit.
What did I bring as a visitor or guest? Beyond the bottle of wine or recipe, good book or juicy news, what did I bring to their home from home – from me? What did I leave with them that they could revisit and pass on to their friends and family? Did I leave them with experiences of new mindscapes, new thoughts, new choices? Did I participate in their home adding to its beauty and warmth? What were my parting gifts? Was it a rose quartz for their mantle or a burning question raised in our conversations that warmed their fireplace of hearth and heart?
At first my father’s comment hit me as a sharp statement I should be aware of and show gratitude for – as a daughter should. As I replay it I ask myself if indeed I am just a guest here and do I visit as a queen would visit the countryside. Do I come and let the "people" prepare meals, parades, events in environments that were prepared weeks in advance with hours and hours of work in preparation for my arrival. Then with my departure do all my “servants/hosts” collapse in exhaustion? And what did I leave them with besides the moments of my courteous, royalty perfect participation in all their plans, events and meals? Maybe that was enough, maybe that’s all they needed and more than they could have hoped for.
Well, I’m hoping that when I’m queen for a day, a few days or a week, and I visit the countryside of friends or family, known and unknown, that I leave more than they could have hoped for and more than I had planned. I’m hoping I leave enough so that if they are exhausted, its because it was so much fun and pushed us all into unprepared places of thought, experiences and conversation that all of us continue unpacking long after the suit cases are put away and the visitors and normality returns home.
As I visit this memory, this comment and continuing conversation between my father and I undoes and expands my participation in the making of memories. What does a guest, visitor, home, queen, servant look like. This is a perfect trip I’m on with my dad as well as those we are visiting.
As the Founder of The Arts Organization, TAO Metaversity, CEE, Artist Studio Suite, Wendy Adams Mendenhall focuses on experiential education to (re)awaken the Artist in all of us. With a background in graphic design, corporate communications, retail, and an ongoing "passion for observation," she works with teachers, authors and artists, to further the recognition and utilization of their art in the 21st century." She is committed to the union of teachers throughout the world, a global curriculum and global campuses. She is a Huffpost blogger, lives in Salt Lake City, UT and is available for travel wherever and whenever the sun shines. Featured images by Jeff Clay