Hospitality … in “the Distance”
March 22, 2020 – David R. Weiss
“Pro-tip for couples suddenly working from home together: Get yourselves an imaginary co-worker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don’t know what to do about her.”
It was a tongue-in-cheek meme I saw on Facebook. A bit of pandemic humor aimed at helping folks suddenly finding themselves both co-homed and co-working cope with this new wrinkle in their relationship. I chuckled because Margaret and I were facing precisely that reality. And I bit. The next day—Margaret’s first working from home alongside me—I created a little placard to post in our dining room (er, shared office suite) with room for a changing date and the name of our latest “imaginary co-worker.” Innocent fun in an anxious moment. We posted a photo of the placard to Facebook.
March 17, 2020. We have our workplace stress management plan in place. Figure we’ll work our way through the alphabet so that no name gets too stigmatized. Already today “Alexis” has made a couple significant missteps. Won’t be bringing her back tomorrow!
We got several dozen likes and a couple wry comments on Facebook. Perhaps more importantly—although Margaret and I get along famously most of the time—it offered a gentle bit of warmth to set between us. Our work is trying. I read and wrangle words all day long. It might seem “easy,” but my creative process is a lot like making maple syrup. You get to enjoy the sweetness; I spend all day sweating while I boil down the sap. Margaret, meanwhile, is head- and heart-deep in helping the City of Minneapolis Public Health Department fashion its emergency response to the coming wave of illness to roil all 10,000 of our lakes and 5-plus million of our lives.
March 18, 2020. So, Margaret had to go into work today – Mpls is going into Emergency Response mode and she’s part of that; will still be working from home most days, but today it’s just me and Brendan here for lunch. And that dipshit decided to work through lunch to “impress the boss.” People, in this moment we need be there for each other! Brendan will need to find another boss to impress tomorrow…
“Brendan” got dozens of likes and laughs—and a life of his own in the comments before. Turns out a number of people had “met” him before in other settings and had opinions as well. “Brendan the buttkisser.” “I’ve never really liked Brendan.” “Brendan. What as @sshole. Seriously. Won’t even wash his hands.” One friend—a church friend, no less!—challenged, “So … that’s 2 in a row. Either you’re hiring shitty employees, or you’re a shitty boss. Just sayin’.” I replied, “Whoa there! But maybe you’re right. We went with ‘Sure Hire Intelli-Temps,’ and now I’m thinking I should’ve checked the acronym before signing the contract.” Late in the day, another friend—facing the pandemic with a child at home and a husband in the hospital in Michigan, wrote, “Seriously, this is my favorite thing ever. Thank you for a daily laugh when there’s so much stress in the world. Anxiously waiting to C who S.H.I.T. sends tomorrow!!” It seems our little inside joke is a balm beyond our four walls. So we kept it up.
March 19, 2020. This morning the temp firm sent over Cinnamyn to join our work team for the day. (Really, who names a kid that?) “Just like the spice,” she says. “But you can call me “Cyn, because everybody likes a little Cyn now and then.” She winked. I winced. Margaret glared. Oy.
Cyn garnered dozens more likes and laughs and generated some self-help conversation after Margaret warned me, “Watch it buddy. I got my eyes on you!” One friend at the end of our block commented, “Thank you so much for sharing your misadventures in short-term staffing. It is honestly a light in the day. And this one I shared with some colleagues, who think Cyn sounds ‘friendly’ and ‘has a personality.’” I agreed, replying, “Shhh … I thought so, too, but don’t dare say that out loud.” But another cautioned, “Well, there’s personality, and then there’s personality—be careful!” My cousin chimed in from North Carolina, “Beware of ‘Cyn’s’ allure—being Lutheran, there’s no confession to absolve you of poor choices!”
Midday, Margaret posted a picture of us bundled up against the rain, “Taking a walk, leaving ‘Cyn’ in charge while gone. Hmmmm, not sure about that.” We came home thirty minutes later to be informed by a high school friend in Wisconsin, “Cinnamyn is currently running a ‘video chat’ service out of your house using your internet. ‘Everybody needs a little Cyn’.” I’m guessing we’ll be changing internet providers now. The day ended with a college friend in Iowa observing (I think appreciatively), “You are both sick, SICK people, but I am glad you can manage to keep your sense of humor in all this. LOL! Stay safe.”
Friday things got … a little cheeky …
March 20, 2020. Well, I’d like to say that Darrell, our Sure Hire Intelli-Temp for the day, has been a joy to work with, but it’s more accurate to say that he’s been a real gas … and not in the most pleasant way. Do we really need to vet an employee’s night-before dinner choices? I know, everyone says “stock up on canned beans—powerful protein packed in a can.” Sadly, all that protein is getting packed in our can today, too.
Besides adding more emojis to our collection, Darrell went “on the road,” being shared to several other walls, adding his pungent presence to friends of friends that we didn’t even know. The first comment came from a retired social worker a bit peeved by the latest White House press conference, “Thanks David! I’m so pissed off today. I needed this.” A friend in our neighborhood recalled, “Darrell was banned from the employee lunch room when he had a stint at Traveler’s Insurance downtown—after a week, some asked him to go sit outside at the lunch tables. He made friends—but it was limited to outside time …” I read that out loud to Margaret, unable to restrain my giggles. When Margaret commented on that to our friend, she replied, “I’m glad; the whole idea is funny, and I enjoy it also. Trying to find fun with others is helping me, too. Cannot wait to see who your latest coworker will be!”
At the end of what had been an unusually trying day, we still faced a full sink of dirty dishes prompting Margaret to post a picture: “Farrell’s one job today was to put away clean dishes and wash dirty ones. Needless to say, he won’t be back tomorrow.” I added, “WTF? He told me he was going to ‘clear it all out’ before he left for the day. Oh … sh*t … have you tried the bathroom lately? He definitely cleared something out! Ugh!” Margaret’s typo was accidental (check your keyboard, F is right next to D), but by now Darrell had a defender in my cousin here in Minnesota. “Margaret, not quite sure, but maybe by calling him Farrell instead of Darrell he got a little miffed. Though clearly you both were pretty close-minded from the start with this guy. Not sure he could have done anything well enough for you today.” Margaret shot back, “He was an oops from the start.” But my cousin was not letting up, “I still hope you gain a little patience and compassion over the weekend, seemed to me to be in short supply today!” (I’m not sure she knew how true that was!) Margaret offered in her defense, “Well, I have had another ‘D’ [um—me!] to contend with today … and every day.” My cousin wisely and graciously typed, “I’ll just leave that one alone …” Thank you!
This morning we got our final comment on yesterday’s escapade, from a friend just across the river in Minneapolis, “You guys are hilarious—and it is desperately needed!”
Innocent fun in an anxious moment? Hardly. Margaret heard someone suggest we reframe what we’re doing as “physical distancing” to be clear that the goal is to preserve our capacity for social relationships (by preserving our physical health). “Social distancing”—however well-intended the term was—can send the devastating subliminal message that the point is to thin our social connectedness. Nothing could be further from the truth. To weather this storm we need to do the exact opposite: to deepen our social connectedness in creative and non-physical ways so as to sustain our social-emotional-physical health in the midst of this global health crisis. We need to extend hospitality … in the midst of physical distance. How?
Margaret and I pretty much married ourselves to hospitality when we married each other. Having dated seriously for a year in college, it wasn’t until twenty years later, both divorced and with children, that we actually bound our lives to one another. When we did (in 2001), we shaped our wedding ceremony around “seven sacred stones”—calling out seven core values that had ripened in each of our lives independently. These “sacred stones” have been at the center of our marriage—our shared life—ever since. And one of them was, in fact, hospitality: honoring the place that conviviality plays in our lives.  Many who’ve been part of our lives—and in our home—since then will testify that “hospitality” is at the heart of who are.
It looks like we won’t be welcoming anyone into our home again anytime soon—except for those imaginary temp employees (who, as my cousin observed, haven’t exactly been blanketed with hospitality—oops). But through them, and that humorous window into the foibles of our now working-from-home life, we continue to extend hospitality to our friends … in “the distance.” This isn’t to downplay the seriousness of either the pandemic or the painful disruption it’s causing in many lives—including our own. It’s simply to say that humor and hospitality are still worth sharing. You can tune in at www.facebook.com/davidrweiss. Who knows the challenges that S.H.I.T. might send our way next week …
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.
 You can find a list of all seven sacred stones here: https://tothetune.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/seven-golden-stones.pdf.