I set five places at the table on the weekend. Meals together. It is a big deal with my wife especially. As ships passing in the night, we sometimes do not know who is going where, when. Our semi-adult children have their own lives, despite that they are still at home. Breakfast might be the best you can count on.
I think about the number of places when I set them, because the number is not a constant. Two have already been back and forth from university, and a third to go. We all know our places at the table. For some reason, although the dining table is bigger, they still like to eat in the kitchen. When I made the dining room table to fit eight, I joked about the ‘boyfriend spots’. Now, not so much. At least one of those places is taken.
An empty spot at the table is a funny thing, because it makes you think about the notable absence during meals, more than any other time. When there should be some family banter, all those personalities competing to get a word in, it can be remarkably silent, in contrast.
The Knights of the Round Table had a thirteenth spot always left open for the ‘unseen guest at every meal’. They were speaking of course, of Christ, and the prospect that he would return some day. It is fitting that the way we remember our baptism and our faith is at the Lord’s supper when we partake.
Return is a happy thing at least for me. You empower them to leave, looking for that day when they will come back. When you pack them off, it is not just for a day here and there. At their age and stage, you send them of to adventures that will take them somewhere else both in body and spirit. I know. I took my wife from her family’s table. They miss her, and she misses them. That ache is an odd part of family life, inclusion made most noticeable by absence. My eldest daughter was waxing dramatic about the angst they experience at her age - a desire to be independent, and yet at the same time, a bit of fear that the world will not be as welcoming as that constant place at the family dinner table. She may be right. I hope the best place she finds in the world will always be the family table.
Families who eat together, stay together no matter what. It is not just families. Breaking bread together is a universal. It is very hard to quarrel with someone when you break bread together. It is the essence of being human, nourished not only by material sustenance, but in your very spirit. It is about the company to be had.
It is ironic that to be a successful parent is a counter intuitive job. It means that you will teach your kids to someday no longer need you. It can make you sad. It makes me count and value those spots at the table even more. They say that girls bring people home and they make your family bigger. Despite the coming and going I can see a table I am going to make in the future that will have places for a few more.
But for today, five is enough and I am grateful.