Both of my parents were psychologists. This sounds like something you might say while standing anonymously before a 12-step gathering, but I’m actually proud of the fact. It infused my growing up with experiences that I appreciate, and probably a few that I’m still assimilating.
We rarely went to church so I never thought of my home as particularly ”religious,” but every now and then I’d realize that my friends did think of it that way. This puzzled me at the time, but, looking back, I think I know what gave them that impression. We always had the strangest people hanging around: drunks, orphans, wanderers, exhibitionists — some just characters, others basket cases. They might be sleeping on our couch between half-way houses, camping out in the yard or just dropping by to talk about their problems. Lots of them would wind up sharing our holidays.
What seemed like normal family life to me must have looked peculiar to others. They probably thought we were operating some kind of cult.
The other day, while shopping in Portsmouth, I dropped into the excellent RiverRun Bookstore and my eye was immediately caught by a large book, prominently displayed. It had cover art that looked like it was scrawled with a ballpoint pen. I picked it up and all the pages were typewritten copy, with mistakes crossed out and marginal notes written in pen. The title was “The Diary of a Nice Man,” and inside was just that; a day-to-day account of the observations of someone named Lothar Patten. It was obviously not a mass-market publication. I suspected it was made at Kinkos.
I asked the clerks if the book was “for real.” I could picture some college kids fabricating a piece of faux outsider literature. Yep, they assured me. Lothar was a real local guy who had been homeless for awhile. He had an independent film made about him during the last election cycle and became something of a local celebrity.
I bought the book and arranged an interview with Lothar. While talking to him at Cafe Kilim, just about every person coming or going said hello, wished him well or shook his hand. The interview was for a story that will run next month, but it gave me a thought worth sharing during Christmas. After all, it’s a holiday that celebrates a story about a homeless family looking for a place to spend the night.
Not every down-and-out person in a New Hampshire town is as included or beloved as Lothar, but I believe to the extent that they are, those places become special, even holy. People can enjoy all the color and sparkle of the holidays without confusing it with real heavenly glory, but wherever people experience true hospitality, acceptance and mercy, they know they are witnesses to something divine.
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”
— Hebrews 13:2
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine