Some twenty-five years later, I still remember Tony’s question.
He had come from out of town to visit our daughter during their college Christmas break.
After two or three days, he took my husband, Dave, aside. “Does your family always eat meals together?”
Dave assured him we did, but was struck by what a strange question Tony had asked.
Tony must’ve picked up on Dave’s bafflement so he explained, “I’ve never eaten dinner with my family. At my house, when we’re hungry we look in the fridge and eat whatever we can find.”
Later Dave told me about their conversation. Both of us were shocked—we’d never heard of such a thing—and we were sad to think of all that Tony and his family missed by opting out of family meals together.
I thought of Tony the other day when I read these words penned by Henri Nouwen in 1997:
“Today fast-food services and TV dinners
have made common meals less and less central.
But what will there be to remember
when we no longer come together around the table
to share a meal?…
Can we make the table a hospitable place,
inviting us to kindness, gentleness, joy,
and peace and creating beautiful memories?”
(from “Creating Beautiful Memories,”
Bread for the Journey, February 18 selection)
Did you eat meals together around the table when you were growing up? When you were raising your kids?
|Catching up with our dear friend John along the River Thames|
If so, you’ll enjoy—and maybe even applaud—the following Nouwen thoughts:
“..[H]aving a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” (from “The Meal that Makes Us Family and Friends,” Bread for the Journey, February 15 selection; emphasis mine)
|4th birthday around Formica table with plastic-covered chairs|
Nouwen’s words stirred up memories of a special dinner table that’s been in our family for four generations so far, and counting (I shared Vera Bachman’s Table with you a year or so ago) and the variety of meals and family activities that have taken place around it.
Jo Harjo also wrote about a dinner table: “…The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and will go on.… At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.… Wars have begun and ended at this table.…” (excerpts from “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” from The Woman Who Fell From The Sky, by Jo Harjo)
She’s right. Sometimes dinner tables resemble war zones.
Henri Nouwen writes about that, too: “Although the table is a place for intimacy, we all know how easily it can become a place of distance, hostility, and even hatred.” He writes of husbands and wives refusing to speak to each other, siblings bickering, and awkward silences. He says, “Let’s do everything possible to make the table the place to celebrate intimacy.” (from “The Barometer of Our Lives,” Bread for the Journey, February 17 selection; emphasis mine)
|Celebrating 70 years together around the family dinner table|
Consider including in your memoir a story about a dinner table—and the life-shaping experiences you had around it.
Give yourself a day or so to think back.
Maybe you’ll come up with a story set at your childhood dinner table,
|Karen and Raggedy Ann at the table Grandpa made|
or your grandparents’ dinner table,
or a rough-hewn picnic table at summer camp,
or maybe a story that took place at a cold industrial table in a hospital cafeteria,
or with strangers along a plastic counter at fast-food place in the Rome airport.
Look again at Jo’s words: “Wars have begun and ended at this table.…” If your dinner table has resembled a battlefield, write stories to inspire an about-face in the way your readers do meals.
Your story could provide motivation to break the cycle, end the war, and create a happy, healthy, affirming experience around the dinner table.
Your story could be the turning point so that in the future, people will have pleasant memories to pass on to their kids and grandkids.