A Source of Contagious Amazement: The Directory of Traveling Friends

By Katrina Mason

Editor’s note: The Directory of Traveling Friends is referred to interchangeable as the Traveling Directory and the Directory.

Recently a thick letter came in the mail from a woman who, using the Directory of Traveling Friends, had stayed with us about two years ago. In the envelope was a photograph of flowers taken by a Quaker who will be leading a workshop, “Photography as Prayer,” at the upcoming FGC Gathering in Blacksburg, VA. Why our former guest decided to write and to send that photograph now I do not know. The coincidence was eerie–for I had just decided to take that photography workshop. A coincidence such as this is one of the joys of opening one’s house to Friends-and meeting Quakers from around the world-through the Traveling Directory.

We’ve had demanding guests and strange guests but always interesting ones. Once we had a mother and daughter from the Midwest staying in our upstairs bedroom and a father and son from New England in the downstairs bedroom. Another time a father and son from New Zealand left about half an hour before a family from Brunei arrived. The New Zealand folks were very serious, the Brunei family free spirits, they sent us cards and letters for quite a while afterward.

A wonderful visitor was the clerk of a California meeting who works at an art museum and wanted to see the Vermeer show at the National Gallery of Art a few years ago. She mastered the bus and subway system immediately. Snow, ice and flood descended that week but did nothing to dampen her enthusiasm. Then there was the a family from Alaska who had been planning their trip east for a year, with all three children picking out what they wanted most to see. It was fun to hear their daily adventures and to get to know each child individually.

As a user of the Traveling Directory, I’ve had my share of adventures, too. A favorite memory is the time I needed to do some interviews in southern California for a book I was researching. Looking through the Traveling Directory, I was delighted to see that there was one family listed in the beach town where I would be going. When I called, a male voice said that they had no plans for the evening in question and to come ahead. What he didn’t tell me was that that day happened to be his 40th birthday. And what he didn’t know was that his family and meeting did have plans-a surprise party. Walking up to the house, whose blazing lights had been visible a block away, I peeked in the window and saw people-lots of people- along with balloons and crepe paper streamers. “Uh-oh. Nobody said they were having a party,” I thought as I knocked. To the woman who answered the door, I stammered that I was a Quaker from Maryland who had called about spending the night. “Oh, we’re all Quakers, too-c’mon in.”

Finally, there was visitor we had who wrote describing herself as a “middle-aged woman from New Zealand who had never been to the United States” but was coming to a conference in Canada and wanted to do some research at an organization in Bethesda (where we live) on the way there. She arrived on a warm May night, emerging from the airport limousine asking cheerily, “And would you be expecting someone from New Zealand?” As she thanked the limousine driver, I noticed that she seemed to be thanking an old friend-and that, I would discover, was the way she acted with everyone she met-making friends immediately.

Before we had entered the house that first evening, I got a preview of her contagious amazement. First, the squirrels-she had read about them and even seen them on television, but to actually watch them just a few feet away, wow! Every day she had wonderful adventures, and because she was riding the neighborhood bus into downtown Bethesda each day, she soon was regaling me with all the neighborhood news. I came very close to asking her to please return annually to keep my own sense of wonder alive.

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