Fairy castles cease their chatter, colored markers find their caps, plates are filled, and somehow we all make it to the table for dinner. This is where we gather most nights—the only time and place where the four of us sit looking at each other, face to face. Lucia, our two-year old who is still searching for her words, offers to say a prayer—a blessing made up of gestures and sounds, good as any. Then we begin to eat.
This night it is simple fare—meaty tomato sauce over garlic laden kale. Everyone has the same, but I’ll admit a grilled cheese sandwich accompanies the girls’ dishes. Homemade bread, organic cheese and butter—as good a compromise as I can make for picky eaters.
As much as we are here for the food, however, we are here more so for the conversation. We could easily all eat alone, but we could not have a conversation alone. Lily volunteers to tell us about her day—the crawfish her class saw on their daily hike, visitors who brought snakes and salamanders for them to see. My wife and I share the stories of the day, the frustrations and joys.
Somewhere along the way, in the midst of the conversation among the four of us, I realize that these connections of lives and time, work and play, extend beyond us. I realize that there are others present here at this intersection formed on this table. There is the work and there are the workers who made these plates, formed this silverware, and sewed these napkins. There are the farmers who grew the kale and garlic, harvested and pressed the olive oil. There is the cow, a young steer perhaps, who lived a life of a year and a half or so, nursing then grazing, eating the grass grown from a soil that has collected in its humus its own millennia of stories. There is the farmer who hauled water, moved the steer to fresh pasture, cared for it until the day it died.
My table of four suddenly seemed to be a table of thousands, a joyful and chattering mass all gathered here in this meal. And while I always hope to have an open and generous table, I also practice these dinners as a way to show my children how to be civil, how to sit and learn from one another. I want this mass gathered at my table to also come with respect and generosity, to be the kinds of guests I like at my table, which means that I want the farmers to be good farmers, who care for the flourishing of their animals, the meat to be good meat from an animal that lived well until the day its life ended. If this table is a conversation place then I want it to be a conversation that is clean, fair, and full of goodness. This night it was and now, with this image, I hope that it will continue to be as I invite a gathering to sit at my table for every meal I make.