Consider: Taking our Place at the Table

Dear Friends,

A few years ago, I laid a feast before a dear friend who was struggling with debilitating clinical depression. I threw myself into the task. The everyday dishes would not work. Instead, I found the china, washed it carefully, laid it on the table. I made the most nourishing dish I could think of, my mother’s beef stew. I braised the meat, added a splash of red wine, pulled young carrots and unearthed small yellow potatoes from my own garden. I cut a bouquet of heirloom roses, placed them gently beside my friend’s plate. I was ready.

I thought that my offering, given with love, would be enough for my friend. I watched as she picked at her food, stared into space. The small bites she took were like sawdust in her mouth. She couldn’t seem to smell the flowers at all. Finally, she stood and left the table. I sat there, incredulous and sad, as the dishes grew cold and my heart pulsed with questions: Why couldn’t I have done more? Why couldn’t I have made the table more welcoming, the food more palatable?

Afterward, a good counselor told me words I have never forgotten: You could never be enough to fill her need.  

Through the years, I’ve had to learn that hard truth again and again. You can open your arms wide, but you can’t make your kids step into your embrace. You can take your friends on a drive past views that make your heart contract with wonder, but you can’t make them look up from their glowing phone screens. You can set the table, you can cook up the finest food, but you can’t make anyone join you. At the end of the day, you are finite, only human. You alone are not enough to fill the yawning needs of others.

But what a joy it is when people pull up a chair and fall to the feast! I see that joy reflected in my mother’s eyes when we finally find a crack in our busy schedules to jump on the ferry to join her for an afternoon. I feel it myself when my daughters lounge on our bed late at night, content to listen as we read a book out loud. Who wants dessert? Who wants coffee?

Sometimes the feast is shabby, the kind of thing I’d never post on Instagram. Sometimes it is nothing more than hot dogs eaten hastily, a vegetable if we’re lucky, and the family watching a show bleary-eyed before sleep. But we are together and trust tomorrow will yield more thoughtful food. That too is a feast I need to show up for with gratitude.

It’s sacred work: this business of setting the table again and again, while holding in check expectations of how that gift is received. But even if it isn’t received as I hoped, even if all that I laid in care can’t be enough, I don’t want to stop setting. Likewise, it’s also sacred work: this business of learning to show up at all the tables set for me, no matter how thrown-together they appear, how meager they seem. These days, I find feasts laid in unexpected places if only I have eyes to see them, and the intent to cultivate my sight.

So now, after a long day at work, I sit here in the gathering darkness. Across the street, a lingering ray of sunlight illuminates a squirrel as he ducks under the sinuous branches of the neighbor’s lemon-colored rhododendron. The garden glows with resplendent pink roses and violet salvia. Upstairs, my daughters chat contentedly. In the background, an inane pop song whines along, a tune with no apparent redeeming quality but one that makes my teens happy somehow. Soon I’ll get up and make them dinner. This evening is at once the feast I have laid and the feast that has been laid for me. I hope to take my place at the table, tonight, tomorrow, and every day that is given to me.

Peace,
Kim

P.S. We’re having a blast on our Instagram these days! If you are an Instagram user, pop-over for regular pics, quotes, and conversation. We can’t serve up a steaming mug of tea through the platform, but there’s still plenty of goodness to linger over.
P.P.S. And we’re back at The Backpage. A colleague of mine always says, “Just for funsies.” Funsies is a great descriptor of what The Backpage is really all about. Join us for some thoughts and a few chuckles.
P.P.P.S: It’s Lindsay here with the most important postscript of all: I just wanted to sneak in and give Kim a shout out! Her book, Reading Beauty, was recently awarded with a Children’s Choice Selection by the International Literacy Association. Well deserved. Way to go, Kim! Keep on nourishing young minds. And, like Kim’s heroine, may you all fall into your own Deep Read.

A World of Dew, And Yet

It’s early summer and the roses are as wide as tea saucers.  When I pass by the garden on the way into the house, their heady scent cloaks me.  There are too many blooms to cut and bring inside, but the few I’ve arranged simply in vases astound me with their dense layers of petals.  

I am humbled by beauty like this; without a great deal of work from me, the garden yields new blossoms every morning. As I read Lindsay’s Consider this week, I felt humbled again by the realization that though majesty and wonder charge our world, many people can’t experience either. How fortunate I am to be able to feel something as I look at the roses.

I am aware that my perception of beauty and enjoyment of this world is a gift, and a tenuous one at that.  I think of the dear people I’ve known who have battled depression, of the powerlessness and despair they have tried to describe–a dulling of all senses, an inability to respond, to hear, to see.  “It’s like being deep underwater, wrapped in chains,” a friend once told me.  I can see glimmers of action, hear muted voices above me, but I can’t free myself to swim to the surface.”  When this friend ended her life after a long battle with mental illness, someone told me that she believed some people were just not meant for this world.

No.  I can’t believe it.  My convictions tell me otherwise; my faith that we are eternal beings made in the image of God instills a hope in me that, like Emily Dickinson’s bird with feathers, sang on even in the terrible, broken days that followed my friend’s death.

And yet the ache.  And yet the terrible irony that the people I love who have suffered most acutely from depression are people who, when they are well, are most sensitive to the goodness and beauty in the world.  The injustice of it, the awful brokenness of it, makes me long for more than this world of dew.

This world of dew

Is a world of dew,

And yet. . . .

Poet Kobayashi Issa wrote this after his one-year old daughter died from smallpox.  His days were shot through by tragedy–two more children and his wife also died.  And yet he wrote magnificent haiku that evidenced life was often an encounter with delight.  Here’s another from his wonderful volume The Spring of My Life that I loved so much I wrote up on our kitchen wall:

With such a voice

You should also learn to dance,

Bellowing Frog.

“We are made for this world.  We are not made for this world.”  Can both be true?

A year after a close friend of mine died from breast cancer, I stood with her nine-year old daughter at her grave, still a gash of unhealed dirt in the cemetery.  This girl whom I love so much, best friend to my own daughter, bent under the weight of her grief.  Her shoulders shook with sobs.  Her father, my friend’s husband, looked out into the hills smoky with twilight and shining with the first color of fall, and said, “We look for the Eternal Spring.”  

I have never forgotten his words.  In this early summer with the roses before me, I touch the sorrow that scars us all.  I am made for this world, wholly and completely.  With great humility, I say, Yes! to this world, and yet. . .And yet.   I long for the Eternal Spring.