My name is Leslie, and I built the Hutchmoot: Homebound experience. This could easily be an essay about the Rabbit Room staff giving their time to make the experience a reality (and we could regale you with stories worthy of such an essay!), but it’s actually a blog about how, after months of work, I stepped away from preparing the feast of Hutchmoot: Homebound in order to serve another feast altogether.
When we dreamt of an online Hutchmoot event in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I threw my hat into the ring to build the infrastructure—a fancy word which for the purposes of this piece I’d rather replace with “feasting table.” We did not know what this digital table would look like, we did not have a plan, nor did we want to use anything else as a reference point. We wanted to build an entirely new table.
The building of the Hutchmoot: Homebound experience is documentary-worthy. One long discussion at a time, the team dreamed up a feast of goodness for those who arrived at the website to dine, and by the grace of God, it was able to be completed on time. Each day presented new challenges, each page requiring coding and intricate configuration, each feature requiring immense amounts of creativity to fit it into the tools we had at our disposal.
We were one month from the event, in the heat of preparation and development, and my family experienced a particularly tragic event in the form of miscarriage. The Rabbit Room staff held me up as my knees were weak with grief, not only through emotional support and prayer, but through stepping into the website development while I took time to regroup. The site became a true team project.
I was whisked away to an entirely different table to make a meal only I could serve. The new table is much smaller. And there’s one guest who is a different kind of beloved stranger. Leslie E. Thompson
On the morning of the first Hutchmoot: Homebound, I sat in North Wind Manor with my laptop and huge external monitor ready for a train wreck. My palms were sweating the entire weekend while running on fumes to get to the finish line. At the completion of the event, I realized I was mostly disconnected and on the fringes both because I was anticipating disaster (which much to our surprise, never occurred!) and because I needed to get through this one event so I could grieve properly. With the final “amen” of the doxology, my knees buckled at the weight of my loss just weeks before. I crashed and rushed home. I was tired, grieving, coming off the tracks. I didn’t experience the feast I had helped to prepare like I had hoped.
A few months later it was decided that the event would be happening again in 2021—a decision that was made just days after I discovered that I was pregnant again. Hutchmoot: Homebound would commence during the first month of my maternity sabbatical; I would not be there for it. In a private meeting, I disclosed my secret to leadership and agreed to work until the literal moment I couldn’t any longer, training others in the meantime to take over “the feast” when I went into labor.
Then, baby Alice Denali arrived two weeks early, and I had to let go of Hutchmoot: Homebound much earlier than expected. It was out of my hands, and I watched from a distance as the event was finished by all the other capable hands that helped prepare it. It took a team to make the dinner feast, and it took a team to serve it. I just couldn’t be a part of that team anymore.
On the weekend of the event, I brought two-week-old Alice for a few hours to watch this thing we made together take its final form. Though I was there, I felt like I did in 2020. Still working to establish a healthy eating routine, I would settle myself in a quiet room alone to feed her every hour and a half. I could only smell the feast I had helped to prepare as it wafted from under the door, while I was physically serving a small feast for one (this is not just an analogy—I was also smelling the literal feast Rachel Matar was preparing for the staff as Alice and I were by the kitchen at the Manor).
What a grand feast it was.
And yet, I had missed being able to serve the meal for a crowd of beloved strangers each time I had prepared it. It was like I had escaped through the back kitchen door before ever entering the dining room to help serve the meal. I never saw all the faces of those who were to receive the food of the larger meal—but I had to trust that they were taken care of, knowing they were always in good hands with or without me.
In my departure from the larger meal, I was whisked away to an entirely different table to make a meal only I could serve. The new table is much smaller. And there’s one guest who is a different kind of beloved stranger, although her face is one I was always supposed to see—one who was always meant for my hands, whose heart was created for me to hold next to my own.
There were ways I got to see the larger table from my new perspective. Momentary glances out of my window into the picture window of the other, quick pop-ins as I stuck my head in to say hello, hearing the laughter from the dining room and catching smiles as the swinging door (of course it’s a swinging door!) glides open. Only I could make the dinner for the one, and only I can serve it. I just count myself lucky that both dining rooms have windows.
I was reminded of a book included in the Homebound 2020 experience: Leaf by Niggle, a short story written by J. R. R. Tolkien. Mr. Niggle spends his life painting a tree—he has high hopes for this work, but he is constantly interrupted to do other things, never finishing the painting before he is swept away to an allegorical heaven. Once in this afterlife, he sees the tree completed and real: “All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time.”
His feast, left incomplete in his lifetime, was served and perfected without his own doing.
To prepare a meal without enjoying its splendors is a theme of the Christian experience. Like Niggle, we may spend our years on this earth setting in motion glorious trajectories whose ends we will likely never see. Parenting provides a fine example of this, when in the wee hours of a sleepless night we gaze into the eyes of a baby, wondering what their years will bring long after we’ve taken our last breath. This is right and good, as evidenced by the wrong and unjust experience of losing a child to death. It is a sacred thing to watch one’s child grow and explore and leave; it is a desecrated thing to watch a child die. In no way do I dare compare the loss of a child to the loss of a dream (though, for some, this is one in the same), but there is a similar conclusion to be made from both. When a child is lost, a feast has been discarded before being tasted. For us to lose a dream or stop making a feast is to cease the possibilities of those things after our hands no longer hold them.
The outworkings of our feasts may never be enjoyed by us in the time we have on earth. But for those of us who believe in life after death, in the redemption and renewal at the end of all things, we have hope that the things God has set forth in us will be completed—will be contextualized, will be perfectly finished—and we will see it. We will see the reach of our children’s grasp, the stretch of our own hands and work, and the satiated bellies after the feasts we so diligently prepared, even if we were unable to serve them ourselves.