In the comfort of strangers

We all feel lonely sometimes. Sometimes we feel lonely even we are not really alone, when we are surrounded by our friends. Loneliness is something I know very intimately these days, and yet it is a relatively new experience. But in the months since I opened the door to the Nomad Chef Secret Restaurant I have learned something very important. For those few hours when I am surrounded by strangers as I plate and chatter, engage in the duties of chef, hostess, waitress, activities that often prevent deep conversations, all of the loneliness disappears and I feel part of a community. My new friends for the night, are complete strangers. And they really are my friends. I don’t get to know them very well, but they give themselves in the way that real friends do. They take the risk. They stretch themselves out of their comfort zones. They meet me on my own terrain. What more could I ask for from a friend? Isn’t this the measure of a strong bond, a friendship that can endure the test of time?

And yet, these are complete strangers. Often this is their first visit to a secret restaurant. Sometimes they come alone. Sometimes they come as a couple. And once in awhile they come as a group for 5, 6 or 7. But it always requires a kind of courage, the willingness to roll with the punches, to show up without knowing what is in store for them. When they come here they don’t even know what is on the menu, other than the fact that there is usually a theme and sometimes that theme is cuisine related. But it could just as easily be a theme like the one coming up in a couple of week, “Shake it up with hula.”

So what do strangers offer that friends don’t? They bring their passion and their curiosity. They come with open hearts and empty bellies. They bring their higher selves, the selves that know that they will be listened to with fresh ears. They bring their stories and their aspirations. They come to share. And I want to eat them up!

I get to just show up and do my best, hostess with the mostest. I don’t have to pretend to be any other than I am. And these days, that is the biggest relief, the greatest gift. With my friends and those who know me I have to edit my words for fear I might say something that reminds them of how sad life can be, how hard it can be, of the greatest loss a person can endure, the loss of my son, my only child. Then when, just as quickly, a new wave of emotion approaches my shoreline and I want to share my enthusiasm for something new, my old friends and acquaintances can’t quite adjust to the speed at which I can go from sad to happy, grief stricken to happy hostess. My “new” friends don’t know me any differently from how I am. What they see is what they get. And while I don’t tend to talk about my personal life (the demands of hostessing and waitressing make that a big challenge to someone who loves to talk but can’t cook and talk at the same time) they listen to my stories just as I listen to theirs – for the first time and with real attention.

There may be no antidote to the pain of life, but there is an antidote to isolation. Being in the company of strangers, sharing food and stories, is like having the family we all dream of having, a little like the one I once had.

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