“Just stop in.”
The words were far more foreign than the Wexford accent suggested, and they remained odd-feeling even as I heard them again and again.
I was in Ireland for two years of post-graduate service with other volunteers. People we had met there knew that we were far from home, so we frequently received gracious invitations to help us settle in. Many of these were specific invitations: dinner this day and tea that one, lunch meet-ups and places to go for Christmas. We didn’t have a car, so these plans often came with arrangements for a lift.
Then there was this other sort of invitation: once we knew where someone lived, they’d often welcome us to “just stop in” for tea whenever we might have a bit of time. No plans were needed, no advance warning required.
I’m a planner, and the idea of dropping in without warning struck my ears as so odd. How could it possibly even work? With people’s jam-packed schedules and crazy busy lives, the very idea seemed absurd.
The potential failures of this system swirled around in my head: I could show up after a long walk and find no one home. Or worse, I might catch someone in the middle of more important tasks and make them feel interrupted and inconvenienced.
So I smiled at the invitations and tried to express gratitude, all the while feeling like I’d never really be able to take anyone up on the offer.
As time went on, though, I began to see the wisdom in what had first seemed absurd. People in this Irish small town lived life at a slower pace, leaving room to savor simple things like tea and good bread and people’s company. Work wasn’t the driving force behind every decision. People didn’t seem to rate themselves on their productivity like they had in my life as a college student.
We had work to do as volunteers, but our Irish supervisors very intentionally ensured that our schedules weren’t as jam-packed as they would have been in the States. This left us room to form relationships and get to know the place that, though temporary, would very deeply become home.
The invitations to “just stop in” kept coming and finally, toward the end of my two years, I did it. I chose someone who had extended the invitation often, someone with kids my age who had taught me that friendships can transcend generational boundaries. I walked the lonely road, skirted a busy intersection, and just knocked on the door.
It was lovely.
I was ushered inside and sat at the kitchen island while tea and brown bread with good butter appeared out of nowhere. My presence was welcomed, and my friend even seemed glad about it. It seemed that I had caught her in the middle of chores, but she didn’t seem bothered by that in the slightest, deftly continuing her kitchen tasks while we chatted.
It was a delightful experience of real hospitality. My host didn’t have to make room for my visit because her entire life was structured in a way that left room for others. There was nothing elaborate about what we did together — we were just able to be together.
So I made return visits and visited others in my remaining months, able at last to believe the sincerity of the invitations I had received. I took great joy in the generosity with which I was received, and I hoped I could take this lesson back to the States with me.
Last year, my kids and I tried a new tradition for St. Patrick’s Day. We made brown bread and sprang for the good butter, then brought these to a few friends without any announcement at all. We didn’t stay long (we are American, after all, and I didn’t want to impose), but it was a fun way to reconnect.
I don’t know that I’ll make a very regular practice of unannounced visits in the States; after all, we’re all busy and our schedules don’t have the same kind of room. But I recall this different way of life very fondly, and I hope my friends here know that they’re always welcome to just stop in.