I have often heard that families are created around the dinner table. That the most important hour of the day is 6pm, that we must take pause and say grace and eat the potatoes together, evening after evening, without fail, no matter what, forever and ever, Amen.
Dinner time is sacred, it has been written.
And it is sacred, of course, but I don’t think it is sacred because of the hour, or the table setting, or the menu.
I think it is sacred if, and only if, you choose to see it as sacred.
At noon, when the clock changes hands, we do, too. I work in the morning; Ken hangs out with Bee. And at noon, we switch, but not before our own sacred mealtime.
There’s no menu, not really. We cut produce and open the jelly jar, make some toast, grab some hummus. Bee moves from the counter to the stool, the stool to the counter, an endless waltz of toddler energy, a booming soundtrack of her latest adventures. Sometimes she wants a story, This time about a hedgehog, please, but wait, how big was the hedgehog? No, I want him smaller. And I want his name to be Margaret. No, Stewart. No, Margaret Stewart the Third.
Some days, we forget the sacred. We focus on the list, the mess, the dishes, the doldrums.
But other days, on the ones we make orange smiles and tell another hedgehog story and feast for three minutes or thirty, whatever time allows? On those days, our laughter is the sun.
I used to think the only way to do family dinner was around the table. I didn’t see nourishment anywhere else, in any way other than a steaming pot roast at 6, and pass the salt, please.
But now I know better.
To the mother passing wrapped sandwiches – 2 no meat, 1 no onion, 1 with everything, hold the pickles – in a van full of kids on their way to football practice and violin lessons and drama club: sacred mealtime.
To the father flipping grilled cheese on the skillet at 2am while warming formula for the baby: sacred mealtime.
To the toddler filling her own! bowl! of! cereal! for the first time: sacred mealtime.
To the college kid reheating cold rice in his dorm fridge: sacred mealtime.
To you and me, to the sticky fingers and the ketchup stains, or the absence of both: sacred mealtime.
To the ones you love, to the ones you don’t understand, to the ones you’re fighting with or grieving with or working toward: sacred mealtime.
To the ones you keep showing up for, keep cutting apples for, keep wiping crumbs from, keep passing butter to, keep refilling water for, keep spreading love and patience and jelly to: sacred mealtime.
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” Oscar Wilde said this.
Meat and potatoes optional.
I have a friend who lights candles and plays music during each of her family’s meals. It makes the food taste better, she says.
I tried it, but the pizza still tasted like frozen pizza.
I don’t light candles, mostly. I don’t play music, mostly. I don’t do tablescapes, mostly, and I don’t do cloth napkins, mostly, and I’ve never met a napkin ring I understood, mostly.
But I do have some tips for a memorable meal, and they are simple, and they are not at all simple:
Love. Joy. Forgiveness.
(And also dessert.)