Sunday, August 27, 2023

This weekend we are guests

my husband and I, at the apartment of our daughter and son-in-law. It is interesting being a guest, how we fit into the rhythm and space of other people's lives. What time they wake up and how they make their coffee. The route where they walk the dog and what we should have for dinner. 

As a guest, I want to be agreeable, flexible, pleasant. But I admit I sometimes feel anxious about what kind of job I am doing. Is my fitful sleep interrupting anyone? Is it weird that I want freshly cut lemons in my water or two cups of coffee before noon? This is my family, but still. I want to be a good guest. 

In the morning while our daughter and son-in-law are at work, my husband and I walk over to the Washington National Cathedral, which is near their neighborhood. We have never visited this place before and it is striking. The steeple, the carved stone. You can go on a self-guided tour of the building, and we decide to head up to the observation deck first. We take our time. Only a handful of other tourists. One of them is holding a dog like a baby against her shoulder. I smile and the dog smiles back. Which gets everyone in our small group laughing. 

I read an article recently that brief interactions with people, even with strangers, maybe especially with strangers, can boost your mental health. I will add brief interactions with dogs to this list. The observation deck of this church is roomy, the windows relatively small, the view shimmery in the heat. Sometimes I feel dizzy looking out from tall buildings. But today I am relaxed. Curious. Open to smiling at more strangers and their dogs. 

After dinner the four of us squeeze up together with our dogs in front of the TV and watch a dumb and yet fun movie. We used to do this a lot with each other. During the height of the pandemic our daughter moved back home and for several months our son-in-law--then, her boyfriend--lived with us too. That was a scary time because who knew what was going to happen and what if we couldn't make it through. 

The worst part of it was how I looked at other people. Or rather, how I didn't. On walks or at quick trips to the grocery store, I averted my eyes, because wasn't everyone a potential virus carrier? And that included me too. How could I live with myself if I got sick and spread this terrible thing to someone else? 

In the lower level of the National Cathedral there are small chapels, mazelike hallways with high arched ceilings. Bodies are interred down here. Helen Keller. Along with her teacher Anne Sullivan. But the one that makes me pause is Matthew Shepherd, who was murdered by a different kind of virus, a hate crime, something scarier in many ways, as it never seems to stop spreading. 

But I want to believe that most of us do our best. We walk respectfully through churches and follow the traffic rules. Pull over to let the ambulance through. And whether we are visiting strangers or family, we try to be good guests.

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