When I was a little, I used to play restaurant. I designed menus, created recipes (mainly involving cookies and pudding) and made lots of tea. I named my little space the Songbird Café. Whenever a babysitter came over I’d hand them a menu and take their order. The really fun ones would play along and take my order too.
Most of the time though, I waited on imaginary customers. I loved who came by and the stories that were told. I didn’t even mind when folks complained that their tea was cold.
In so many ways, the Songbird Café lives on – I still love feeding people. I still love gathering people in our home. Thankfully, now they are real.
And yet still, there are moments I feel this deep need to please and perform and perfect. I feel like it’s all a big show where I am juggling flaming torches and bouncing on one leg. Anyone else?
No one is asking me to perform, it’s this pressure I put on myself. We do this to ourselves a lot, yeah?
What I am learning through trial and error is this – the art of gathering, the essence of hospitality, is not so much the homemade crusty bread but the hands that meet to break it.
It’s not what covers the table but whose sitting around it.
That’s where the power lies.
That’s where the magic is friend.
Of course, a really good meal can make a heart flutter. But what we love even more is the connection.
What we crave is for a moment in this busy, beautiful, disorganized life there is meaning and purpose in the mess. And for a few hours you don’t feel completely alone. There is joy in rubbing elbows, sitting next to someone you barely know and choosing openness and familiarity – even when it’s terrifying. There is beauty in allowing our stories to unravel, finding that in so many ways they are alike, they are woven into each other.
When darkness comes I always run to the table. I always run to the place where laughter and honest talks meet. Because when I think of my sweetest memories, the unshakable moments, the table has played a significant, steady part.
It’s where my brother in law asked permission to marry my sister, while I sat at anxiously at the top of the stairs, hanging on to every word. The table is where my grandmother and I would cut string beans. It’s the place she told me that yes, meeting my grandfather was indeed love at first sight and she wished I could have met him.
It’s where where my Dad sits in the morning, the seat by the window. It’s where he’d say, “Make today great” as I left for school. It’s the place we’d play poker with my Irish grandpa while munching on Cheetos and sipping orange soda.
The table is where my husband and I have made some of our best and hardest talks. It’s the place we try to lay down our pride, lock eyes and choose to listen.
And the reason these moments count, the reason they stand out in my mind, has little to do with table settings and space and food. But it has everything to do with love, intimacy and fellowship. It has to do with feeling welcomed, exactly as you are and someone deciding that for right now, right here, your presence isn’t merely filling up space, it’s a gift.
There are moments I still get caught up in this idea of performing and entertaining. I’ll dream of better serving platters and more space to gather. I get frustrated when a recipe flops. Anyone else?
But in those moments of performing and trying, I think we’re missing something big. We’re missing the heartbeat of hospitality. Because it isn’t always convenient, it’s not always pretty. It doesn’t always taste good.
It might mean under or over cooked, a cluttered table. It might look like dishes piled high in the sink and welcoming guests in anyway. It might mean inviting friends over and ordering carry out.
Truth is, I think it’s a choice we make daily.
And we don’t simply choose it for others. We practice it for ourselves too. We practice it by speaking kind words in the mirror, owning our limitations and asking for help. We practice it by saying no, when the person who really needs to be welcomed in and cared for is us.
And the beautiful part is we can all choose it. I think it’s the part of our story that connects us.
We all have things to share. We all have the ability to slow down, even as culture pushes us harder.
We can all strive for openness and familiarity.
So go ahead dear one, make an elaborate feast or order a pizza, set the table for one or six.
In the end, what counts is showing up to the table. Showing up just as you are and giving others permission to do the same.
– image credit: Verity Vareé