The lunch hour begins at 1pm in the UK. My inner clock, born in the US, is adjusting to pushing lunchtime back an hour. I’m learning to ignore a growling stomach and embrace a culture of stopping midday for a respite. After decades of living hurried up on the inside, measuring time by productivity and eating lunch while standing up at the kitchen counter, Europeans are teaching me about the art of considering.
On a sunny Thursday, I board a red double decker bus; choose a seat in the rear between a woman speaking Italian into her mobile and a man with a beard of dreads hanging down to his belly button. Hop off at the sixth stop, stand on a quiet corner of a new-to-me neighborhood and look at my phone. Google Maps is my now my closest companion.
This day I refuse bullying by my to-do list and accept a lunch invitation from a persevering friend who asks repeatedly over months since my arrival in London. Genuine generosity is most easily identified by the attributes of perseverance and selfless motive.
Under vines trailing over the doorway, I enter a modest home, warm with traces of loving well in each nook and cranny. A puppy garners attention around my kneecaps and ankles, welcoming the intrusion of a stranger into familiar daily rhythm. After initial greetings, we all bound into the kitchen where a heap of long stemmed white camellias cover a small wooden table in front of the refrigerator.
All my sensibilities vanish out the kitchen window when I see those cabbage heads, profuse with layers of petals lying like fallen soldiers instead of standing upright in water. But she isn’t paying attention to the flowers.
“I purchased three different kinds of cheese for this salad because I wasn’t sure which one you prefer,” my friend says pulling packages out of the refrigerator. “Which one would you like?”
“I’ll choose feta,” I respond looking up at her standing at the sink. And that’s when I notice an inconspicuous garden through the open kitchen window. A small café table under a giant maple holds plates of couscous and piles of freshly picked lettuce.
Sitting on metal chairs collecting leaf litter adhering to puppy fur like Velcro, we talk about places to buy plants and which varieties thrive well in pollution. She reveals plans for expanding the garden knowing I’m passionate about flowers; a weed pulling addict who finds clarity by digging in the dirt.
Sipping elderflower cordial poured into glasses of sparkling water, I learn its a homemade concoction handed down from her husband’s ancestry. And admit the taste of elderflower has become popular in my family cupboard.
“I can share the recipe with you if you are interested in making it,” she divulges.
On the bus ride home, a bouquet of buxom white peonies lie on my lap and my emotions vacillate between humility and thankfulness for those couple of hours.I have often approached the gift of welcome in hospitality like eating lunch at my kitchen counter. Filling an empty slot on the calendar, I overlook the art of considering others.
What cheese do you like? What color of flowers are your favorites? Is your garden sunny or shady? Do you like the taste of elderflower? Would you like the recipe for your family? Would you like to take some of these camellias home with you?
How can I bless you instead of how can I impress you? This question transforms acquaintances into deep friendships.
When I arrived back home, I put those flowers in a vase of water and enjoyed capturing them in photos. It was the first time someone gave me camellias and I wanted to remember the beauty.
The art of considering unleashes a wellspring of creativity.
What resonates most with people of all cultures isn’t a tidy home, a flaky croissant served on your best china, a freshly weeded garden or the carefully selected font on a lunch invitation. All are impressive but not memorable.
A few days later, my new friend arrived at my doorstep with the trunk of her car open. Amidst suitcases and potted plants purchased on a weekend getaway were two bags for me. Two bags of elderflower petals freshly picked in a field in Devon.
I made the family recipe and bottled the sweet cordial. Guess what I gave as a hostess gift the next time I had a lunch invitation?
Considering others first means the art you create from your life dispels any rumors about motive.
Even the son of man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)