May 29, 2014
The invitation was unexpected. So too were the lessons I learned during the dinner party.
We were the youngest by thirty years, and our nine-year-old son leaned over and whispered, “I’m guessing there won’t be other kids.” Right, son. Sorry.
The dozen or so people at the party were all grandparents and great-grandparents. In some ways, the conversation was familiar: gentle teasing, story telling, laughter. Praise for the food and the perfunctory protest-and-relent for second pieces of éclair cake.
Somber moments slipped in. The widow whose husband collapsed and died on the beach last fall. The funerals of friends, more common than these dinner parties, they said. Aches and pains that a good night’s sleep won’t solve.
Yet woven throughout the evening was a grand sense of community, of caring for each other, of living out Jesus’ great commandment to love our neighbors.
One woman, nearly 90, thanked the husband of another. A few years ago, he watched as she struggled up the porch steps. The next day, he was over with wood and tools to build a railing. Another guest arrived late. He spent the afternoon with a mutual friend who is dying slowly, steadily, from cancer. One friend has limited vision, so the other does the driving. Another mentions a neighbor’s failing health, emotional and physical, and several offer to call and visit.
Most of the guests were in church the next morning, dressed in Sunday best, kneeling at the altar to receive the Eucharist. But on the night before—and throughout the decades of shared friendship, of compassionate giving and loving—they were incarnate, living and breathing what it means to gather at the common table.