by Meredith Fitzsimmons
Open Table Nashville Volunteer Coordinator
My sister is always coming up with great ideas. It was my sister who came up with the scheme to re-enact the Oregon Trail in our living room every Sunday afternoon growing up, and I’m pretty sure she was also responsible for painting our room a perfect Pepto-Bismal pink. So it came as no surprise when Liz called me to ask if her fourth grade students could write holiday letters for our friends at Hobson House. I immediately loved the idea, and planned to meet her class that next morning.
All elementary schools smell the same, right? It’s as if the moment you walk through those giant double doors, you are instantly transported back to the days of line leaders, untied shoelaces and Crayola crayons. I walked into Mrs. Knowles’ classroom thoroughly convinced that I knew what to expect. I had prepared myself for boredom and inattentiveness. I had prepared for the rolling of eyes, un-welcomed whispers, and the kid that somehow is in every class and is always chopping his eraser to pieces for no reason. What I had not prepared for, however, was the excitement and energy that filled the room. I had not prepared for the immense curiosity, the detailed questions, and the pure joy of children learning about our Open Table friends.
Throughout the week, the students worked on holiday cards for our friends in the Hobson House. What started as a creative writing project soon catapulted into a whole new realm of children investing in their city—their community. They started bringing in everything they could to share with their new pen pals. It was as though they had run through their houses, asking their parents how much they could give to their new friends, picking up everything that would fit in their backpacks.
I will never forget the night I took those letters to the house. I don’t think I have ever experienced so much warmth in one room. Presents were suddenly not as important as two pages written in pencil with shaky handwriting. The stillness in the room was only interrupted by a few chuckles here and there, brought on by the cleverness that only children can provide. Finally, Douglas, one of our residents, broke the silence by saying, “This is better than any present. This is the present.”
I often find myself thinking back to that night. It is hard to forget the joy seen in the eyes of friends—the joy of a ten-year-old boy, reciprocated by that of a fifty-year-old man. It was contagious, and the lines of “giving” and “receiving” were instantly blurred into a beautiful mosaic of community and hospitality. As you step into 2012, may you experience the joy of giving to your city. May you celebrate the magnitude of what it means to receive from your community. May we become a community that gives eagerly like a child, and receive with the wisdom to recognize our immense need for each other.