Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wall to Wall Hospitality (Dalton, Ga)

Ben, Lynn, Miller, Mary Lynn, Savannah and Me on Sunday night

Mickey & I on Monday morning

There are some towns where I struggle to find someone ... anyone ... to host me. In Dalton, GA I had the exact opposite experience. Leave it to the carpet capital of the USA to show me wall to wall hospitality. In the space of one day I received two separate offers of home stays. Ben Laughter called me to say he and his wife would love to host me after being contacted by their daughter-in-law in Knoxville who heard about my journey. A few hours later the Presbyterian pastor Mickey Shealy replied to an email I had sent him to say he and his wife would be happy to host me as well. Given my embarrassment of riches, I decided to stay with the Laughters and then have breakfast with Mickey. I wish I had this problem in every town.

The only thing that wasn't welcoming in Dalton was the weather. Most of my walk from Ringgold had been under cool, wet skies. I had just reached the city limits and was getting ready to call Ben when I noticed an email in my inbox. Misty Watson, a reporter from the local Dalton paper, was trying to get in contact with me about writing a newspaper article on my walk. I haven't sought out any press on this trip but I am happy to talk to all who are interested, so I called her and then called Ben and before I knew it I found myself in the offices of the Dalton Daily Citizen.

The three of us then moved a few blocks to the office Ben shares with his wife Lynn. We took pictures there and talked a little bit more about my trip and what had made the Laughters open to hosting a stranger. Satisfied that she had all she needed Misty went back to the newsroom and the Laughters and I continued our Sunday night.

That Sunday night included a quick business meeting at their church, loading a truck with donations to Samaritan's purse and then a fun dinner with their daughter Mary Lynn, her husband Miller and their daughter Savannah.

When we awoke on Monday morning there was the article on the front page of the paper, along with the somewhat posed picture of us "meeting" for the first time. Here is a link to the article. The lead sentence was short and to the point. "Garth Poorman is not afraid of strangers," it read.

I like that. In a way, it summarizes a big theme of my trip. We live in a society that largely fears strangers. This trip offers a different narrative. My personal experience has been that seeking out and interacting with strangers has been a wonderful benefit to my life, not a cause for worry.

My suspicion is that there is a correlation before what we expect to find in life and what we actually experience. I set out on this trip expecting to run into strangers who were welcoming, kind and loving and that is exactly what has happened. I have over 80 exhibits in defense of that position. After meeting the Laughter family and Mickey Shealey, make that 82.

It puts me in mind of scripture verse I remember singing as a child:

"Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door will be opened unto you."

All I will add is, "Halle-lu ... Halle-lu-jah."