Guest House
Jalaluddin Rumi, c. 1207-1273
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

To be a parent in the spring of 2020 is to feel an ongoing sense of powerlessness and inadequacy. With every piece of difficult news to process, we run out of comforting words to offer. Every parent has experienced tears of frustration, muffled sobs in the bedroom, or the slamming of doors.

On some days, we find just the right words to distract or comfort; while on others days, we may be as compassionate as Mother Teresa, and our words fall flat. We would not be honest if we didn’t admit those days when we are tired, irritable, or overwhelmed, and we say things we wish never came out of our mouths. The poet Rumi reminds us that these failed attempts at being humane, are what being human is all about. The “unexpected visitors” of anger, sadness, or resentment can make room for new possibilities our children need to see we are human, so they know how to be human themselves.  

With all guest houses, however, sometimes we discover that certain guests are unwelcome the occurrence of mental illness, for example, will need more than our words or our hugs. As we welcome our own feelings and those of our children, we gain clarity on what steps may be needed to seek help or gain insight on a problem.

In my best attempts to comfort my sobbing 12-year-old daughter as she contemplates a summer without friends, or my senior who will never experience a senior spring or attend a prom, or my 22-year-old who just started his real- world job in New York City, only to find himself sharing a bedroom again with his little brother and squabbling with siblings over nightly chores, there is little I can say that assuages their feelings of sadness.

Rumi reminds us that we aren’t supposed to stop the difficult feelings our children experience we “invite them in” and we listen. As King Lear’s daughter, Cordelia, reminds her father when asked to express her love: “What shall Cordelia speak? Love, and be silent.” Sometimes the best wisdom we can offer is in the silence of our love.

-- The Rev. Katie Solter, St. Mark’s School

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