Time together as a family around the table is good for everyone involved, and recent research has proved this. It’s this time that anchors families. It’s not the big holiday feasts once or twice a year, but the regular, reliable, shared meals that count. Shared meals send the message that citizenship in a family entails certain standards beyond individual whims. The power of this habit may not materialize immediately, but there will be a time when the family lingers at the table engrossed in a story or listening to each other’s point of view within the safety-net of the family table where no one is wrong, guilty, or shy, that you get a glint of the power of this ritual. This is where children learn what it means to be a “Jones” or “Smith” – to be a part of a group and a part of a history shared through time spent together at the table. Rutgers anthropologist, Robin Fox, teaches about the mysterious ways that meals, shared together, around the family table, engrave a soul: “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”
I’m fortunate to have the table I grew up with as a child in my home now, as an adult. The voices of my grandparents sharing their stories and the presence of my mother presiding over dinner are a part of this table, though they are no longer physically at the table. If I look closely at the grain of the wood, I can also make out the impressions of school work and term papers hand written on it by my brothers and sister and me which adds to this sense of history, my history, that the table embodies and that I’m still adding to.
The table. It’s about community, conversation, and connecting with one another. This is where life events are toasted, where holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries are celebrated, and where family and friends can gather and share in the most primal and nurturing of rituals: the meal.