Still baffled about the tribute speech, one appealed, “Miss, why don’t you demonstrate?”
I can speak in public. I do speak in front of groups of students every day. But when I demonstrate for a speech class I’m suddenly 16 again and very, very nervous. That’s why I didn’t really give my student an answer. Maybe he was right, maybe the example I provided wasn’t enough.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend I stewed over a reply. Here it is, my example of a tribute speech:
[Write the definitions on the board and sketch the garage wall on the whiteboard ahead of time.]
I’m here today to tell you about one of my best friends, Stephanie, who showed me what grace (an undeserved gift) and hospitality (offering a generous and friendly environment) look like. Stephanie and I met in college. Although we had almost nothing in common, we both felt called to cultivate a friendship the moment we met in line at the cafeteria. Over the years we’ve learned a lot from each other through our differences and common disasters.
One of the most memorable disasters occurred one Thanksgiving. I had no where to go that year and the dorms were going to be closed, so I had three options 1) hide away in the moldy basement with some crackers and mice; 2) build an igloo and volunteer at the soup kitchen; or 3) gratefully accept an invitation home with a friend. I decided to go home with Stephanie, so one evening found her, me, another girl from college, her younger brother, and her mom piled in a minivan which we drove straight through five states to the suburbs of Atlanta.
This trip was followed by a busy, crowded four days. Somehow her family fit and fed fourteen of us under their humble roof that weekend. Among the house guests were some of her family who had received their citizenship that very week, days before one cousin turned 16. We celebrated both citizenship and birthday. Cake, candles, and smiles bridged our language barrier.
On Thanksgiving Day we set up a huge table in the living room and picked up more people the family knew from church, work, and the YMCA. We must have had over 20 people from all walks of life and speaking in various tongues. I’d never been part of anything like that meal. The warmth and generosity extended to us all meant more than I could say, so I resolved to continue the tradition of hospitality the moment I had my own door to open and my own table to set.
But hospitality wasn’t the only lesson I learned from that happy occasion. After the filling meal, siblings and parents left to take our guests back home. My friend’s brother, Jonathan, and I cleared the table and then wrestled it down the stairs to put it away in the garage.
The table fit just so on the garage wall, and we were having a hard time maneuvering it into place. We thought we were being careful when we dropped the table. Suddenly there was water everywhere.
To this day, neither one of us knows how the table hit the water pipe the way it did, but we well know the damage it caused.
I looked for the shut-off valve, but the break was about a foot below the valve. None of us knew where else to shut off the water or who to call at 9 PM on Thanksgiving Day. We were about to call 911 when Stephanie’s dad arrived and ran to shut off the main water valve to the house.
There we were, Thanksgiving dishes piled high in the sink, my friend’s newly laid bedroom wood floor flooded, and fourteen of us unable to shower. Jonathan and I had nowhere to hide. But we didn’t need to.
No one pointed fingers at us or raised their voices. They did laugh and hand us some towels to start drying up the mess though, and then they incredibly extended me an open invitation to Thanksgiving, any time. Wow. I’d never been treated with such forgiveness or grace.
I could go on and on with stories of Stephanie’s grace and hospitality, but this day says it all. Grace and hospitality don’t come naturally to me, they’re something I need to do with intention. That’s why I’m grateful that an unlikely friendship greatly influenced my own priorities and traditions, so that now it’s rare that I don’t have a friend, or eight, at my own table on Thanksgiving Day.
I’ll let you know how this goes.