Painful partings and the spirit of Welcome

This morning starting in a rather devastating way, with news that a dear friend in Toronto passed away in the early hours of the morning.

I was reassured his passing was painless and peaceful,  and he was surrounded by loved ones when he left this world.  Of those loved ones only one was a blood relative. Because of his un-self conscious openness to others all of those people are experiencing acute loss today.

I find myself asking do people create these types of relationships any more?

Our friend William and his wife – whom we shall refer to as Madame, for that is her larger than life personality – married later than most of their generation. As a result they never had children of their own together.  They had the freedom to make time to talk to people, make new friends, and regularly open their home to those friends.

Both William and his wife are – were- smarter than the average bear.  As a result, they saw life through a different lens. Where others might see labels, William and Madame saw people in need of friendship and a place to belong – and frankly, interesting characters who could have an intelligent conversation.

Their door was always open and their kitchen ready to whip up a latte or pour a glass of wine (depending on the time of day). The main requirement was have good manners and be interesting. They knew the most important thing in life is to have a place to go where one can “just be” and feel like they belong.

Their dinner parties were a thing of legend. William and Madame spent the early years of their marriage watching Julia Child on Saturday mornings and replicating her recipes.  But the real treat  at the table was the company. It was not uncommon to share a meal with a priest in his 80s, a committed atheist globetrotter in her 70s, a gay man in his 30s, a former spy in her 90s, a teacher of the gifted, and the Ph.D wife of a Sicilian mayor. Not to mention the 93 year old former chemical engineer who carrier her own tonic in a water bottle in case there should be a need for a Gin and Tonic.

Because of their openness, their genuine interest in people, and their ability to cultivate community, I and many, many, many others considered their home a second home. William and his wife were invited to more weddings (church and civil), ordinations, baptisms, Citizenship ceremonies, than anyone I’ve known.

My week got better on Friday evenings because I would spend them sipping wine on William and Madame’s sofa, being entertained with stories of the week. I would inevitably learn something new . I also knew I could share my worries and anxieties and receive sage advice that would put things in perspective. I’m part of a group that considered William and his wife our “in town parents.”

I and others are experiencing the pain of loss tonight only because William and his wife were open to others.  How many people today take the time and invest the energy to cultivate these types of connections – or simply to allow them to happen spontaneously, without reservation?