When a change in my father’s employment necessitated a move from the outskirts of New York City to a small town in rural Pennsylvania, my whole family became fish out of water. We adapted over time—some of us better than others—but moving from a huge ethnic mosaic to a small, pretty homogenous place left me with an enduring sense of how many-faceted this huge place called America is, and how many different types of humans it houses. There are layers to the human onion: the surface presented to the world, the layer just below for friends and family, and the deeper parts we rarely talk about. To find those deeper parts, it helps to sit at a table with someone, for a while. Otherwise, they’ll likely remain the stereotype you project onto them. Admittedly, it can be hard to end up at a table with someone really different from yourself—or, in pandemic times with anyone at all. But we need to aspire, to stumble into unique interactions.
Sitting Around the Table
The tables we start out at, of course, tend to be in our own homes, where, if we’re fortunate, we make a connection to family that can sustain us throughout our lives. If not, we may have to seek belonging at other tables.
After our move to Pennsylvania, we ended up in a huge brick farmhouse in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The baby boom had engulfed the surrounding farms and replaced them with a grid of tree-lined streets. Our own baby boom—seven children covering a span of 15 years—readily filled the house. Farmhouse kitchens are big. Ours accommodated a round table that could seat, with the aid of a leaf, all nine of us. We had a similarly expandable dining room table for special dinners. There was a picnic table in the backyard. All in all, there was a lot of gathering at tables to take in food. Uber Eats was in the distant future.
Every time we sit together at a table, it’s an opportunity to peel away a little layer of the onion and be real. And find the kindness and conviviality at our core.
The family table imprinted on me an appreciation for how people bond over these tables and the meals shared there, how intimate they are, and at times charged with contention. Breaking bread at these tables can be a secular sacrament, a kind of simple sacred ritual that confers grace on the participants. The sensory pull and power of food and drink can ground us in the now, keep us present. It’s also true, of course, that toxic dysfunction can spread at the dinner table, and that is so sad, because every time we sit together at a table, it’s an opportunity to peel away a little layer of the onion and be real. And find the kindness and conviviality at our core.
Building Deep Connections
One of the aspects of building Mindful I have most appreciated is how it was developed not through abstract, placeless conversations and meetings. It was developed in people’s homes, at their tables, or in nearby establishments, indoors, and al fresco. We spent hours convening at countless kitchen tables, dining room tables, patio tables, cafe tables, tables covered in starched white linen, benches, booths, bars, and banquettes. We laughed lots. We listened lots. We learned lots. All to the rhythm that’s introduced by a meal or a leisurely cup of coffee or tea. What could have simply been convenient business relationships became friendships, and a big source of that was the setting.
After 18 months of lockdown and video gatherings, I was able to venture out for a little while and realized again how precious it is to spend time across a table from someone, how as relaxation sets in, we reveal ourselves, and time suspends for a while. I hadn’t known how much I had missed it, so I hope as our world becomes more digitally woven together, we can still find ways to be in each other’s intimate nondigital presence, gathered around tables, feasting not just on food, but on human goodness and good cheer.
Our devices bring us live-tweeting of important events, video footage of daily life on the other side of the world, and photos of our friends from near and far, but the real magic happens when we put the screens down, writes founding editor Barry Boyce. Read More