The lavender, spotted flowers of my orchid are dying and falling from their stalk. They lie around the base of the pot they were raised in, looking tired and spent. It is an odd reminder to me that spring has sprung.
This orchid was a gift from a friend of a friend for my dog. Two years ago I threw a party for my dog’s birthday, which is really more a tribute to my wackiness and sociability, than it is about his annual growth. I, obviously, don’t need much of a reason to open my home to others. Any excuse will do.
It’s a family thing. My brother once held a birthday party for Michelangelo, and had people help paint a fresco. If you’re going to throw a birthday party, using a guy who was born almost 600 years ago pretty much guarantees that you will not have to share the gifts that people bring.
My other brother has been known to have three different parties in three days, for as varied reasons as, “we bought a new sculpture,” “it’s the bridge club’s annual blahdy blah,” and “it’s Sunday.” The social aspect of having a home and having people over just seems like the natural thing for us to do.
This past Sunday I had a house full of people, most of whom I did not know. My friend Kelly Hayes-Raitt was in town for a brief stay before she hits the road again. She’s been traveling the world and wanted to have a get-together with her friends to share some stories.
But to say that she is traveling the world is an understatement. It’s been more like experiencing the world. She’s made trips to Syria, Iraq, the Philippines, Lebanon. These are not just your typical two week, guided bus tours. She goes with various peace and reconciliation groups to meet people and have conversations that most people don’t experience. She spends her time researching what life is like for the people in those countries that are war-torn. People invite her to their homes, to show her their lives so that she can share their stories.
She has this manner that attracts small children. They are drawn to her open demeanor and ready smile, which are disarming, and consequently she gets the parents to share with her the truth of their lives. It’s a truth that they would likely prefer to forget, but cannot.
Writing truth can be a lonely, emotionally taxing project. Writing about war, death and lives turned upside down, more so. But out of it can come moments of intense beauty, connection and compassion. At this party on Sunday she shared a couple of the chapters.
As she read her work, riding her words like a magic carpet, a roomful of 20 Americans had the chance to travel halfway around the world to a bombed out bomb shelter. People sought safety in this room, and it became their death chamber. With her descriptions, and our fertile imaginations, she painted the walls red with blood and death, and in doing so, made the costs of war come home.
This was not a depressing event. Out of her stories of death and destruction, of lives constrained by politics, came hope and understanding. They illuminated the struggle of the human spirit to continue to want better for their families. The horrors that she writes of, are much like the frame of a picture, and the picture is the humanity that is shared in living rooms and kitchens, by people from two divergent cultures, who might not even speak the same tongue, but use the language of the heart to convey meaning.
The people who died in a bomb shelter, people I did not meet, can remind me to do more for cultural understanding and peace. But more importantly to hold those I love closer, and to remember to tell them how much they mean to me.
In my living room, with a dying orchid to remind me that spring is here, came a renewal, and a reminder, of the human spirit. It is why I have such an open home. Because it is through others that we see ourselves. It is in the sharing of our lives and loves, that meaning is created.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.