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Metta’s Sliding Doors

Welcome, dear readers, to another month behind the scenes of a guesthouse in Liverpool, where metta meditation, soulful hospitality, and Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” all intersect in weird and wonderful and sometimes baffling ways.

Two months ago, I described opening the doors of our guesthouse wide to welcome the public, whereas last month I explored what went on behind closed doors. This month saw those same doors neither open nor close but sliding . . .

Movie buffs among you may remember a fun 1998 romantic comedy called Sliding Doors, in which a young woman named Helen goes down two very different life paths depending on whether or not she catches or misses a London Underground train.

In one reality, Helen comes home 10 minutes early to discover her partner having an affair. In the other reality, she arrives home on time for their shared life to carry on as usual. As a viewer, it’s fun to follow both storylines play out simultaneously and see where they differ and where they intersect with fated events.

A few Saturdays ago, a “hen do” (bachelorette party) checked into two apartments on either side of the same corridor. After a quick shower and outfit change for their night out on the town, the party returned to reception to take the lift down to Liverpool’s city center. I had to smile at the one brave six-foot-five-inch (196-centimeter) male among all the white veils and pink tulle, wearing a black tutu and a “hot mess” sash! I wished them a fun night out, not for one second anticipating the sliding doors moment and black belt test of equanimity that would come just hours later.

Now, as a night concierge, I often encounter drunkenness in three forms: happy, sad, or angry. For the most part, happy drunks are a good laugh and sometimes just need reminding to moderate their volume levels when they are back inside. And sad drunks I’ll often invite to reception for a cup of tea and sympathy until I sense they’re ready to be left alone. It’s the angry drunks who are the most unpredictable, and half of that hen do came back spoiling for a fight.

When my gentle reminder that there were guests already asleep was met with violent threats at the top of their lungs that they were going to call the police on me for harassment, I was well and truly stumped. I was within my rights to call security and evict them, but I didn’t want to resort to that just yet for two reasons: it would also mean throwing out the other half of their party in the opposite apartment who had done nothing wrong—as well as the main booker who was still out enjoying their night—and it would mean turning out half-dressed, intoxicated women onto the city streets early on a Sunday morning, something my conscience wrestles with no matter how much a guest may act up.

I stood in the hallway after they slammed the door in my face, genuinely not knowing what to do next. I put my hand on my heart, generated metta for myself, and slid over to knock on door number two. The black swan from earlier answered with a big grin. I explained my dilemma and asked whether he knew the other half of his party well enough to perhaps try and smooth their ruffled feathers? He confessed that he didn’t but, as a probation officer by day, offered to help keep the peace if nothing else so he could keep his bed!

I let him into the nest of angry birds with my master key, standing well back so as not to provoke them further. For a few minutes his intervention sounded like it was working and I hoped against hope that that would be that. When he reemerged, they slammed the door on him too!

Now both the black swan and the night concierge were stumped, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, and I motioned him to follow me out to the roof terrace for strategic talks. By then, he was annoyed enough himself to throw them out for me but understood that this would just result in even more noise and them all probably barricading themselves in his tranquil apartment!

While he smoked and thought things through, I asked if he could maybe call the main booker for advice? Luckily, she answered and I asked her to please stop by reception before we attempted anything further. We talked her through all that had happened so far, and it turned out that the enemy of our enemies was our friend: the troublemakers were the family of the bride-to-be, whom no one else liked and whom the main booker was itching to kick out herself for risking her security deposit!

We all shared a good laugh that we had at least agreed on that, even if it wasn’t practical, and she thanked me for not making any rash decisions until she’d had a chance to see that everyone was safely back and work something out.

This time three of us approached the angry birds’ nest with caution, and the main booker let herself in only to reappear minutes later saying that everyone was back . . . and fast asleep! While the noise and upset they’d caused in the last hour wasn’t ideal, not adding fuel to the fight they were clearly looking for had well and truly worn them out and solved the problem.

The party stopped by reception at checkout later that morning to say thank you, while the troublemakers hung back sheepishly in the corridor, too embarrassed by their nighttime behavior to face the staff in the cold light of day. A visiting security guard later wisely commented that he often observed that pattern in drunken women who, halfway through their night, realize that they’re not teenagers anymore and don’t know what to do with their anger at the passage of time and themselves. His simple observation was quite the aha moment for me at what a difference self-compassion could make not only for ourselves but for our surroundings.

A week later, staff from around the country were invited for test sleeps at the company’s latest property opening in Cambridge. I accepted the invitation out of a sense of curiosity and to encourage all involved—remembering full well how challenging it had been to first open our doors back in July.

The day of travel was well and truly a hot mess with every bus or train I was meant to be traveling on either delayed or canceled due to the start of the recent UK fuel shortages. If this was Sliding Doorsthe reboot, snails would have probably slid their way south faster!

On arrival, I was checked in to the new property with exhausted front-of-house smiles and a hesitant pressing of keyboard keys looking for the correct buttons to push. I recognized that hunt-and-peck feeling all too well and reassured the staff there that they were doing a great job.

The site and finishing were immaculate, and the bed itself so comfortable that my arrival nap before a staff drinks reception found me sleeping 12 hours straight through instead! Wide awake early the next morning, when most of my colleagues were only just turning in, this early bird explored the peaceful new surroundings, remembering how manic our last-minute preparations at the Liverpool site had been.

As I stood on the roof garden overlooking the company’s freshest site, still shrouded in dawn mist, I marveled that in three short months we were not only fully operational but already hosting shadowing opportunities for new starters ourselves: where had the time gone? And how had I not noticed just how tired I was feeling until testing a new bed?

I must admit that I had a good cry over just how hard some aspects had been and that, despite my best efforts to be the glue that held my team together through thick and thin, it I increasingly felt like they were fighting me and my support on every shift. Perhaps we’d already outgrown each other and it was time to move on while they worked out whatever they needed to work out among themselves—not unlike those angry hens the other week? 

Hand on heart, I promised myself to consider a new opening on the learning and development team supporting site staff going through the same learning curve we had all just been through. I then went downstairs to congratulate those feeling happy, listen to those feeling sad, offer funny stories to anyone feeling mad in more ways than one, and generate metta for the holy hot mess of all new beginnings.

I even gave the restaurant manager, who looked like he had barely slept in over a week, a small plush bat as a talisman to carry in his pocket for batsh*t crazy moments. His eyes lit up when I presented it to him, asking where on earth I’d found it. I described a delightful few hours I’d spent in the university botanic gardens founded by Prof. John Stevens Henslow, Charles Darwin’s mentor who slid him from theology to biology and onto the HMS Beagle. The rest, as they say, is natural history. The restaurant manager confessed that the gardens were one of his favorite private places to go unwind, and I smiled that his new little sidekick could take him there instantly as needed.

And so, dear readers, whether—like Helen’s fateful 10 minutes or my three months—life has slid all sorts of inner or outer doors open or shut, please remember to have the self-compassion to grieve how you hoped things would evolve and welcome what now is with Sliding Doors wise advice:

James: Cheer up. Remember what the Monty Python boys say.
Helen: Always look on the bright side of life?
James: No, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

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