When I came home from a year of college, it had suddenly become ok to say the “f-word” at the dinner table. My brother’s were eagerly anticipating the release of “Snakes on a Plane,” and would, at random, begin shouting “I’m tired of these [blank – ing] snakes on this [blank – ing] plane!” Though the obscenity of the conversation had been ratcheted up a few notches, these expletives didn’t seem too out of place in our rapid-fire, and often irreverent, dinner-time conversation. I believe in this conversation—in talking with my family over dinner.
Going around the table: my dad, a lawyer, sits on my right; across from me are my two brothers, Sam and Luke. Sam is a hyper-literate High School sophomore. Luke, an eighth grader, wants to be Bruce Lee, a rock star, or both. Mom, a Mennonite pastor, sits on my left. And then there’s me, the college kid.
Pretty regularly, we start the meal by sharing our highlights and low-lights from the day. My parents often think for a moment and say “my highlight is being here—eating together.” To which my brothers and I reply, “Booooooring!” Eventually, though, I started to understand this feeling. Even though dinner maybe wasn’t the most exciting part of the day, it was the only regular way we connected as a family.
That is not to say that dinner isn’t exciting; it’s raucous. We flit between talking about sci-fi novels, TV shows, theology, indie music, and the law (dad has to constantly contend with questions that begin “dad, would it be illegal if…”). And just because we eat dinner at the table, it doesn’t mean we stay in our chairs. For years Luke would lie on the floor after he’d eaten his portion to judge whether he was too full to eat more. Sam and dad are constantly scrambling to reference books or the internet to settle bets about the definition of “fen” or the year that “Taxi Driver” was released.
If any member of the family is missing, the timbre of the meal distorted. There’s something about our conversation that needs each person. Mom doesn’t always say a lot—often sitting back and letting our boyish energy run its course—but if she’s gone, our talk falls flat. Maybe we need her as an audience, or a mediator, or a catalyst. But this is also true if anyone else is gone. With only four of us, we tend to eat quickly, say a few words and leave. I’m told this is especially apparent now that I’ve left the house.
Eating and talking together is one of the things I most look forward to when I come home from school. The dinner table is the only regular place my family gathers in a (somewhat) civil fashion. I believe in this shared, chaotic time. I believe in eating together. And this, more than road trips or Christmas presents, is the tradition I want to carry with me into the future.
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