In my house, we set the table last night, as on any given night:
I stand over a boiling pot, checking pasta for doneness when the phone rings. Last minute, I invite neighbors over; they’ll be here in 15 minutes. Deckard asks for a snack and upon hearing for the fourth time that he doesn’t need a snack because we’re about to eat, he runs out the front door to see if friends can play. I call him back in because we’re about to eat. I smell something burning and run back in. Amelia is quietly finishing a note to the fairies, when Deckard runs back in and slams into her chair. They start to argue.
Anticipating a knock-down drag-out, I decide the bread is warmed through enough and call everyone in for dinner. Gregg rushes through one last email. Then one very last email.
Hurriedly, we work to lay out the baby artichokes with buttered pasta. Amelia grabs the shaved fennel and spring carrot sticks, popping one in her mouth on the way to the table. Deckard scatters napkins across the table and Amelia moves them just so. Our friends arrive.
Somehow, we all make our way to the table and start digging in. I look around—really look around—for the first time in hours. The house is a jumbled mess, but this tableful of smiling faces– the people I’m closest to– makes me shrug it off and smile myself. I see them all laughing and stuffing things into their mouths that I had held in my hand’s that very morning at the market. I think about the farmer who raised those artichokes and how he’s such a smart ass. He always makes me smirk. Deckard puts an artichoke to his lips and wrinkles his nose, hands it to me. Our neighbor tells a story about the first time she tried an artichoke. I drift out of the conversation, remembering a certain artichoke on a rainy afternoon in Rome.
Sometimes it’s hard to untangle all these moments of tasting food from the people with whom we dine. As hard as it is to make it happen sometimes, meals are our best reason to slow down with the people around us.
Most of us share tables with a few people. Things happen there. Conversations take place. Deals are worked out. Life persists. Friendships are fabricated. There is hard science that suggests we actually become more social while we are eating. Seriously, our brains strive to connect with other people when we sit down to share a meal.
So, shouldn’t it follow that how we garner and prepare our food reflects how we share time with the people in our lives?
Some people are our rocks and our comforts. Some people delight us in a way that makes us think differently. Some make us laugh. Some people know how to incite adventure. Some thrill us to take a risk. And some do a little of all of this.
For me, mealtimes delight my senses and bring family and friends together. Also, I like to feel the juxtaposition of emptiness and fullness, and to recognize that “full” and “empty” have many layers that have nothing to do with putting food in our bellies, per se, but have everything to do with filling the spaces in our lives and in our days.
I’m thankful for the quotidian indulgence. What is mealtime for you?