The events of this past weekend have reinforced a kind of personal principle that is becoming increasingly important to me, the principle of the open home. Bill and Sharon, friends of ours who have moved to Collingwood, came on Friday evening and stayed the night. The next morning they joined our whole extended family, my wife, my two kids, my mother-in-law, and myself, for our ritual Saturday walk to the Guelph Farmers Market. When we returned home, we had breakfast together and chatted over coffee for several hours. For the latter part of this time we were joined by Steve and Christine, other friends of ours who have moved to Rockwood. We had met them by chance at the market earlier in the morning and invited them over to introduce their sixth child and to meet our second. They knew Bill and Sharon a little and stayed to chat with them for a while also. Then, just as everyone was leaving, Laura, a friend who has moved to Toronto, came by unexpectedly for a few minutes to have some tea and to catch us up with her life. There were a few hours of lull after Laura left, but that evening we hosted several couples and their children for a monthly meal that we have together, each couple taking turns to bring some element of the meal or to host the gathering. The food was good, and the conversation was good also. All of these things together, these comings and goings, sometimes planned and sometimes spontaneous, sometimes overnight and sometimes only for a few minutes, sometimes for a meal and sometimes just for tea but always for food, these passings to and from our house, fulfill the ideal of what I call the open home.
The open home is different from the open house for me in that it is not a specified range of time during which others can come to our place, but a way of living that is always open to having others come, and eat, and talk, and stay, and go. It is an invitation to share our home with us, not necessarily a house that is cleaned and prepared for company, but a home that at any moment may be filled with children’s toys or renovations or jam making. It is an invitation to eat with us, not necessarily a meal that has been specially planned and prepared, but whatever we happen to be eating at the time, whether it be the tea my wife is constantly making or the stew that has been simmering all day or the misshapen cookies that my three year old son has just made. It is an invitation to join with us, not necessarily to sit and be entertained, but to be a part of whatever we happen to be doing, whether going to the market or digging in the garden or cooking a meal.
The open home is one that understands others to be welcome always, not as visitors to be entertained and impressed, though sometimes this is fun also, but to be included in the activities and the rhythms of the home, as the Athelnys include Philip Carey in theirs (Somerset Maugham Of Human Bondage London: Pan Books, 1975) or as rat includes mole in his (Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows Sydney: Rigby Publishers, 1983). It says, “Come and join us. You are always welcome here, just as you are and just as we are. Have a glass of what there is to drink and a bite of what there is to eat. Talk with me as I do what needs to be done today. Oh, and there is a bed for you if you want to stay the night. You are more than welcome to it.”
The open home is not, of course, always able to welcome everyone at every time. It is not possible to be always at home, and there are some matters of the home in which others can not or should not be included, but the open home is a way of living that welcomes the coming of others and asks that others come again, even if they cannot enter now, at this moment, for one reason or another. It is a way of living that always welcomes the arrival of others, even if this arrival cannot be received in this instant. It says, “I am so glad that you came. I am disappointed that we cannot receive you now. Please, come again, whenever you can.”
To live like this is to resist the understanding that a house is primarily a possession, a castle, a sanctuary, something to be held and defended as primarily my own. It is to resist the assumption that others need to be welcome only on my own terms, when I am at my best, when I have had the time to cook and clean and make myself presentable. It is to resist the idea that welcoming others is primarily a matter of entertaining them. It is to affirm that my house is primarily a place where people can be at home.
This does not always look the same from person to person and from moment to moment. Some people have stayed with us for several months, some just for a night. Some have shared a meal with us, some just a cup of tea. Some have joined us in kneading the bread dough, others have just watched from a safe distance. In every case, however, it has been good, not merely with the goodness of pleasure but with the goodness of what is good. Beyond any attempt at a theological or philosophical defence, I feel and know a rightness about a home that is open in this way. When I encounter it, I know it to be true in a way that very little else can be.