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“Welcome back, Mr. Whitlock,” the hotel host greeted me as I returned with my wife from an evening out.
I looked down to see if I had a name tag on my shirt. Almost feeling like a celebrity, I whispered to Lori as we got on the elevator, “How did he know my name?”
It’s nice to be welcomed back.
And when someone knows who we are and can call us by name, like the host at the hotel did to me, it makes us feel even more special.
The actors of Improv Everywhere, a comedic performance art organization whose slogan is, “We Cause Scenes,” has had fun surprising strangers by knowing their names.
Improv Everywhere performs in public places, carrying out what they call “missions” with the purpose of creating chaos and joy. In one such mission dubbed “Welcome Back,” 20 of them arrived at JFK Airport to welcome back a complete stranger. Having found someone holding a sign with a person’s name on it, the group explained that they too were there for that same person. After quickly making signs with the stranger’s name on it, they would stand behind a 10-foot banner that read, “Welcome Back.”
They did this all day. When the strangers would arrive, Improv Everywhere would greet them enthusiastically, call them by name and even present a bouquet of flowers to each stranger. After the initial shock, the strangers invariably would smile, laugh with joy and express gratitude that somebody had welcomed them back.
It’s nice to be welcomed back.
There is a subtle nuance between “Welcome Back” and “Welcome Home.” To be welcomed back is lagniappe, that unexpected extra that raises the eyebrows in pleasant surprise. You can be welcomed back to work, school, the gym, tavern or church and not exactly be home or even welcomed there, as poet Robert Frost seemed to imply in his observation that, “Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” No one has to take you back; and to be welcomed back is to be favored.
For the past month, I’ve missed writing this column. I’ve wanted to come back but have been editing a book instead, which is tedious work. Thinking I could complete the project with one fell swoop, I took a forced sabbatical from writing the column. But the book remains unfinished, despite my best effort, and so, unable to wait any longer, I’ve come back.
Annie Dillard noted what the experienced working-class French laborers would say of an apprentice who got hurt or tired: ‘“It’s the trade entering his body.”’ Then Dillard drew a lesson for writers: “The art must enter the body, too.”
Whatever we are passionate about becomes part of us; it enters the body. We miss it when we aren’t doing it. We want to come back.
So I’m coming back and in doing so, I’m welcoming back you, the reader — for you see, a mysterious, unexplainable connection exists between writer and reader — something like what happens when the Improv Everywhere group welcomes back someone they don’t know, really, but someone they do know, really, because they understand something about people: People everywhere have needs, wants, hopes, dreams and disappointments.
The cast then uses their abilities to bring random occasions of joy to someone — and every someone needs some occasion of joyful surprise.
And then everyone feels better. In coming back I know I do. And I hope you, in some way, do too.
After all, it is nice to be welcomed back.
Dr. David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister in Lebanon and adjunct instructor at Campbellsville University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.