BY WYATT MASSEY | November 20, 2014
There exists a subtle fear in the heart of a first-time volunteer. Those initial moments in the cramped confines of a community meal program, eyes darting from unknown face to unknown face.
It wasn’t so long ago when that description fit me. Years have passed, but perhaps it seems like yesterday because I’m constantly reminded of the first lesson I learned on that first day.
My entire worldview changed by the answer to a simple question.
“What’s the most important thing you can say to a guest?”
I had never interacted with a homeless person. I had never conversed with someone in that circumstance before. My knowledge did not extend beyond a brief glimpse from the passenger seat of a passing car. I drove past them like a street sign or a mile marker — just another object.
Oh, how ignorant my blindness was.
Back to the question, though. The answer was so simple, so easy that I still wonder how that freshman version of myself could’ve missed it.
So, what’s the most important thing you can say to a guest?
Before I ever served a meal, before I ever sat at a meal program table and before my heart was ever broken by a story riddled with unfiltered truth, you’re welcome was simply a reply.
It was an automatic response to a thank you. It was flat and lifeless. It didn’t have meaning.
Every morning since — amidst the tables, the smell of coffee and friends — has changed those words.
They have transformed the way I think about our world. Indeed, they are the most important words you can say to those in need. Why?
You: A pronoun to refer to the person the speaker is addressing.
In this moment, I’m speaking to you. You are the person to which my mind, my actions and my soul are pointed toward. For an instant, that brief second, we are connected.
In this moment, my attention is yours. The daily toils you face – the dirty looks you get on the street, the silent degradation of dropped eyes and the ostracism – those fade in this moment.
Are: A verb for a state of being, existing or occurring.
You are something, not nothing. I cannot utter “You are” without following it with another word.
You are is not complete until you know how I see you. That’s the importance of the word that follows. It could be positive or negative. The word that follows could demean you or lift you up.
Welcome: An adjective to describe something gladly received.
The final word, welcome, means there’s no need to be anxious and no need to worry. You’ve been accepted. Everything you are and everything you’re not is completely okay. In fact, it’s needed.
Every other minute of the day you’re called a problem, bad for business or undesirable. In short, you’re told “you don’t belong.”
But not now.
This place, this moment and even my life, needs you. That is why you are welcome here. That is why you are served, because you are loved.
If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t have this moment, we wouldn’t make this connection and both of our days would be one interaction less. That’s what you’re welcome means. One simple phrase for one complex message.
Wyatt is a junior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he studies Writing-Intensive English and Advertising, a combination he hopes to apply in a future career of running media for a nonprofit. He is an advocate for human dignity and is interested in how modern methods of communication can be used to spur societal change.On campus, Wyatt is the social media coordinator and co-president of Midnight Run, a student-led initiative that uses voluntary direct service to work alongside the hungry and homeless in Milwaukee. In his free time, Wyatt writes a blog on Medium, works out with friends, listens to country music and cheers for his three favorite teams: the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers.