The center of our family life is a tiger-oak table, nearly 200 years old and harder than concrete. Round and compact when it is without its six leaves, but when fully extended it can seat eight adults and five children. It has been in our family since it was built by the Hastings table company in southern Michigan.
Growing up, stuff that went on around the table was not always happy. There were fights, and tears. But there were, in the midst of all that, Thanksgiving dinners with dozens from church. There were 40th birthday parties, and 10th birthday parties and graduation open houses. When my parents divorced in the mid-1990s, the judge decided the table stayed with my mom because that’s where the kids were. That’s where the family existed.
So the table, in my father’s family since the early 19th century, still lives with my mother because she became the keeper of the traditions. When she passes, the table will go to whichever one of us have a house big enough for the table and to host the family. This has already been decided. This is how It. Will. Be.
On Saturday, I sat at the table, my husband at my left and my godson/nephew Gabriel, age 4, on my right. As I sat down, he looped his little arm through mine.
“I love you, Aunt Beeks.”
“Love you too, buddy.”
There was squawking over whether sweet potatoes would be eaten, discussion over the emotional benefits of Uncle Scott’s gravy (it is wonderful), and the 93-year-old matriarch at one end and babies at the other. By the time we finished, the table cloth was a disaster, our bellies were full and our hearts overflowing.
There is something intrinsically human about tables, about coming together to break bread. I am not aware of this behavior anywhere else in the animal world, and in many cases, fights break out during feeding time.
But for humans, these creatures made in the image of the Triune God, the coming together is not a time for resource guarding. It is where we open up, where we connect, where we communicate and commune.
They are, in part, the altars of our private lives, of our families, of our homes.
On Saturday, at my family of origin’s Thanksgiving dinner, we shared of what we were thankful: new jobs, spouses that support in spite of our difficult natures, education, faith.
We knew each other. We knew love.
In Orthodoxy, we know God through communion with Him, gathering around His table and partaking of the Holy Eucharist. It is where we know His energies, a place we find grace.
It’s no less true, though different, at that oak table. We know each other through these shared meals. We know each other’s energies. We find grace.