Loving People As They Are

Through paying attention we learn that we are in a vibrant, enriching relationship with everyone around us, says Sharon Salzberg, even strangers.

beeboys/Adobe Stock

A friend once told me about repeated fights he had with his wife early on in their marriage. Much of their conflict centered on how to have dinner. He liked to eat hurriedly, standing up in the kitchen, getting it over with as quickly as possible. She liked to set the table elegantly, sit down, and eat leisurely, together. Many nights they fought instead of eating. Finally, they sought the help of a marriage counselor.

As they examined the layers of meaning hidden in the simple and familiar word “dinner,” they each discovered how many associations, and how many people, they were actually bringing to that table. He talked about his father, a brutal man who was often only at home at dinnertime, which became a nightmarish experience to be escaped from as quickly as possible. She spoke of her fractured family and her mentally ill brother who consumed her mother with worry. It was mainly at dinner that her family made an effort to talk to her, to find out about her day—where she felt she indeed belonged to a family.

For each of them dinner was rarely just dinner, and their partner was often not the person standing…