The world is going to hell in a handcart – except it’s not. No sooner am I giving up on the state of the world, than I am reminded that generosity, sharing, hospitality abound: all three, alive and well and being demonstrably rolled out before my eyes on a daily basis. Yesterday morning I was in my local café: morning roll, fried egg, cup of coffee, pen and paper. In came a tall, jovial American. “Remember me?” he asked the owners. It’s a small place, and all six customers were immediately in on the conversation. “You made us a great fry up on Thursday morning. I’m leaving today and we’ve drunk hardly any of this vodka. I thought I’d drop it down to you. You’re both Polish, right?” Stereotyping aside (they later told me they didn’t drink vodka), we were all delighted by his gesture and shots of vodka were offered (and mostly declined) as a breakfast digestif. There is a first for everything! Then yesterday evening A. sent me a message to tell me she had returned from India, where she had been celebrating her sister’s wedding. “I’ve got some things, can I come round?” Of course she could. In she landed, laden down, telling us that, as we couldn’t go to the wedding, she had brought a little of the wedding back to us. There was a box of ‘Laddu’, sphere shaped sweets made from gram flour, ghee, sugar and nuts, and other delicious little shortbread type biscuits with dried fruit and rose water. More gifts appeared: coloured bangles, soapstone mirrors, an Indian embroidered silk cerise pouch bag and a multi-coloured parasol, traditionally hung upside down from a high ceiling so that all of the tiny mirrors that have been sewn into the kaleidoscope of coloured fabric can catch the light. We nibbled the sweets and biscuits, drank tea and looked through photographs of the most joyous, colourful wedding from Uttar Pradesh.
It made me think about my husband, who had spent time in India when he was alive. He would have enjoyed the sharing, the photographs, and the stories that went with them. He also would have enjoyed the fun of impromptu vodka shots at breakfast. He loved celebrations, anniversaries, ceremonies and people getting together. His generosity was legend. He brought my mum a bottle of Bushmills Whiskey each time he came to see her – always a litre bottle. And when she told him that she was stockpiling them and he needed to stop, he brought her litre bottles of Baileys instead. The haggis for Burns Night had to be a giant one. The leg of lamb to be cooked for visitors was replaced by a giant leg of goat when he discovered it in a local farm shop. The Christmas turkey for seven people was big enough for seveteen – just in case. When he bought his first house in Northern Ireland, he immediately went out and had ten sets of keys cut. “Why are you doing that?” I asked, “are you planning to lose lots of keys?” But no, they were for visitors. And the visitors came, and stayed, and went in regular sets of waves. He craved company and shepherded visitors into our home. He was filled with an enthusiasm for people that made him want to share with them. He had a generous spirit. He loved to cook for people. He loved fixing drinks for others. He was more excited giving presents than receiving them, and he was terrible at surprises. On the rare occasion that he was organized enough to buy a birthday present in advance, he struggled to keep it under wraps until the date of the birthday, so impatient was he to give and so keen was he to watch others receive. He bought my engagement ring on a summer trip to Canada without me, and he could barely contain himself when he got home. No nervous planning as to when and where he should propose, it was the first thing he did when he got back. He rummaged in his bag, found it, and asked me to marry him there and then – travel worn, tired, bleary, the contents of his duffle bag strewn across our bedroom, and bursting with excitement!
Whether it is half a bottle of vodka left over from your Airbnb stay that you gift to a stranger, or delicacies brought for friends from abroad that have almost tipped you over your luggage limit, or half a chicken in the fridge that can be divided small to feed all, we can all do our bit to show that the world is very far from going to hell in a handcart. Every gift, every share, every act of hospitality is its own celebration and they are happening all around us; mark them, cherish them and remember them.