Gather around the table & listen.
When I look back at my life, many of my most treasured memories center around two things: great conversation and great food! I have fond memories of my parents and their friends talking and laughing, with Sinatra on in the background, during candlelit dinner parties that would go late into the evening. When I close my eyes, I can picture the table that each of my family members prepares when it’s their turn to host a holiday meal. I know who usually sits where and how the table is decorated (down to the condiment), including the butter lamb and fresh horseradish that are Easter staples. I can repeat the stories about the first time my Minnesota family asked my Wisconsin family for a “disher” and I could tell you Grandma Hogan’s love story as if it was my own. These remembrances never lose their sparkle or fade with time.
Last year, my husband and I hosted an exchange student. We made a point - no matter how busy we were - to eat dinner together. This is where, bite by bite, we talked through the good, the bad (and sometimes ugly) things going on in our world, with each of us offering our insights and professing our hopes. The conversations were always very therapeutic and something I looked forward to each night. We might not have solved all of our problems but I knew that together, as a family, we’d get through anything after those dinners.
I also have a group of girlfriends - the closest thing to sisters this only child will ever have - that bring me so much joy and peace when we sit down together. We laugh, we cry and we connect in a way that’s so powerful and so special. Another group John and I belong to is the Supper Club Klub, which is made up of like-minded foodies who are also great conversationalists. We talk about work, politics, family, kids and everything in between. Although we don’t always agree, we respect our diversity and one another.
What have all these moments around various dinner tables taught me? When we take the time to listen - really, truly listen - to what others around the table are sharing, it connects us in a way like no other. We understand people on a much deeper level. We become more sympathetic and compassionate creatures with our minds open to possibilities and perspectives. Above all else, we become better family members and friends.
Right now, as a nation, I see a lot of division, frustration and hate. As a teenager there was a time when I went through a lot of these feelings and it was my family dinner conversations that restored my hope. I remember the moment my mom accused me of being mad at the world - and I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life.
I challenge you this holiday season to make coffee dates, lunch dates and dinner dates - with nothing on the agenda except to be present and to enjoy the conversation around the table. I guarantee that it will be the most priceless and appreciated gift you give.