There are stories we tell over and over because we never want to forget. This is one of them. 

Eight years ago I wandered around the streets of Geneva, Switzerland in February. My coat was good for an Australian winter, but I froze in the northern hemisphere’s chilly days. I was only there for two weeks as part of a year when I traveled around the world. I started in September and worked my way through New Zealand, parts of the US, Canada, South Africa, Ethiopia and the UK. Each place was a surprise of sorts, purpose unfolding slowly. I enjoyed connecting deeply with friends and family, becoming part of their lives, and learning through my experiences.

But not in Geneva. I had been on the road for five months when my plane circled over the snow-topped Alps surrounding this tiny town. I landed there knowing no one and not knowing where to go or what to do. There is a romance that surrounds our talk of travel, something about the sheer possibilities and the unexpected that it can be. When I told people what I was doing, wistfulness swept across their face, I wish I could have done that, they said. 

I didn’t see the adventure. I was tired of going from place to place and tired of making my life fit into a suitcase. Every thing boiled down to my choices, what to eat, how to spend my time, where to wash my clothes. Wearied by the steady stream of decisions, it was the comfort of my parents and sisters and friends that I looked for. 

I longed for a sense of place in the middle of what was supposed to be the greatest adventure of my life.

The story is long and winding, but after 10 days or so, I went to a local church in the middle of the Old Town of Geneva. After the service a group of us young adults left with plans to have lunch at a restaurant. Instead of finding a place to eat, we ended up at the apartment of one of our new companions. 

His was a minimal bachelor pad near the center of the city. There was a grey couch with (what looked like) an oblong, plastic white sculpture for a coffee table. He told us to make ourselves at home while he started cooking spaghetti bolognese in the kitchen. 

What are the ingredients of an unforgettable gathering? I’m still not sure, but in that room we eased into each other’s lives, telling stories, laughing and listening. We were a mix of cultures: French, German, Korean-American, Indian-German, American and me. Some were working, others were interns and students. I can’t remember what we talked about, but it was effortless, relaxed, and the connections were mutual and light. 

We set the tables with plates and wine glasses from IKEA, and for a grey day, light still filtered in through the balcony doors into the dining room. The steaming pasta and meat sauce on my plate was ordinary and piled on the dark-blue ceramic plates, no one would have put it on Instagram. But I stared at the plate of food, inhaled the smell of beef and tomatoes and chewed one slow mouthful at a time.

I ate deeply, grateful for my first home-cooked meal in almost two weeks. Tracy Chapman sang about fast cars in the background, and in those hours around the table, I could feel a grounding, a belonging, a most profound sense of love. 

He tells me now that it was the first time he spontaneously invited a group of people to his home. I asked him tonight – because the stranger in Geneva who invited us for lunch became my husband one year and five months after that February – Why did you ask us to come over for lunch? 

He shrugged and said, I have no idea, that’s what made it a spontaneous thing. I didn’t think about it. 

You don’t know what you give someone when you invite them to sit at your table.

You don’t know what ache inside of them is filled by the food they eat from your plates.

You don’t know how the most unplanned gathering can lead to the softening of hearts, the soothing of disappointments and the opening of doorways unimagined.  

We eat spaghetti bolognese often in our home, but I do the cooking most of the time now. This is my favorite recipe by far. Don’t skimp on the salt. 

Devi Duerrmeier
Devi Duerrmeier / Posts / Blog
Devi Duerrmeier is a writer, thinker, photographer, wife and mother. She writes about food, family and faith at the table at her blog My Daily Bread& Butter while she mothers two boys, cooks simple food and writes vulnerable words from an open, purple kitchen in Melbourne, Australia. After a lifetime of moving, from Sri Lanka to the Philippines to Arkansas to Australia to Switzerland to Sweden and then back to Australia, she is putting away the boxes for a while in favour of a life in one place. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Avatar
    Patricia Alderman

    “You don’t know what you give someone when you invite them to sit at your table.”

    This is such a beautiful way to think about true hospitality. Meeting a person’s needs, simply by inviting them in, sharing a meal and being open to making those connections. Being that grounded “sense of place” for another person.

    Aaand, now I want pasta.

    August 28th, 2017 11:16
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      I’m so glad it connected with you, Patricia, and I hope you had some good pasta last week!

      September 6th, 2017 3:38
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    This is beautiful, Devi. Thanks for sharing. I love those easy connections with strangers, and wish I had more of them in my life.

    August 28th, 2017 16:32
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      I think easy connections help us believe that we genuinely belong – praying for you, Amanda, right now for some easy connections this week. Take care.

      September 6th, 2017 3:39
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    Denise Vredevoogd

    Wonderful story and retelling of it! I have often admired, maybe even envied, people who have traveled the world, but thanks to your perspective, I have a deep appreciation for the grounding of “home sweet home,” too. Thanks for your inspiring words!

    August 28th, 2017 21:53
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      It’s so funny, Denise, because I was always drawn to people who had lived in tiny towns for their whole lives, I think because of how different it was from my own life. I envied the stability. Grace to you as you cultivate that grounding in your space – I know that your home is a safe place to so many.

      September 6th, 2017 3:40
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