Michele Marchetti: Finding Warmth Around a Crowded Dinner Table
January 09, 2013 7:05 AM
by Michele Marchetti
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A dear friend just sent me an article that referenced the following quote from a Native American storyteller:

“The elders have sent me to tell you that now is like a rushing river, and this will be experienced in many different ways. There are those who would hold onto the shore … there is no shore. The shore is crumbling. Push off into the middle of the river. Keep your head above the water, look around to see who else is in the river with you, and celebrate.”

The notion of gratitude amidst uncertainty, strife and sadness is familiar to many. The end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 brought heart-wrenching tragedies nationally and locally, and that doesn’t even account for the stories that don’t make it to Facebook.

As I take stock of the people who are in the “river” with me, I’m trying my best to embrace that universal New Year’s resolution of practicing gratitude. While each day is a gift, so is every meal. Especially the ones we share with the extended family we choose for ourselves.

Plenty of child psychologists, nutritionists and parenting experts have made the case for family dinners and the benefits they provide: better grades, happier kids, etc.

Similarly, our neighborhoods and communities have much to gain when invitations are extended to friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

There’s something about a dinner party, particularly now when warmth from other sources is crucial to our mental outlook, that helps keep our heads above water and gives us resolve to tread through another week.

The scene captured in the featured image, taken during an annual pumpkin harvest/barn party, is the perfect example. My friend and neighbor Nick Sloff, a talented photographer, took the picture for his photo blog, Seldom Seen. Without even knowing the details, you know these people are sharing something that can’t be purchased at even our favorite restaurants. One of the hosts loves to garden, and sends guests home with armfuls of unusual gourds. Nick happens to be a great cook himself; one of my favorite neighborhood meals was at a backyard gathering he and his wife hosted one Halloween.

My friend and former New York City roommate spends nearly every Friday night or Saturday with family or friends for Shabbat, 25 hours that commemorate the seventh day of the week and serve as a pillar to the Jewish religion. She turns off her phone, welcomes guests into the apartment she shares with her husband or attends dinner at another friend’s home.

With the exception of the food that is piled high onto plates, the focal point of the evening can’t be purchased. Once a week she honors the religion and relationships that enrich her life. This tradition is fundamental to her existence and was mentioned multiple times in the speeches and toasts that were recently shared at their wedding weekend.

I thought about my friend this past Saturday as I cooked and cleaned for our own small dinner party. I spent the entire day forming ground bison and turkey into 36 meatballs, chopping up jicama and carrots for a gorgeous tomato quinoa stew and turning five different types of cheese (four, if we’re being honest — one was Velveeta) into a macaroni and cheese dish that should probably be illegal. I lit candles for the first time in too long, spiked some Trader Joe’s pear cider and reclaimed my kitchen from homework, snack reminders and crayons.

Within an hour our couch had been transformed into a fort, and the sound of little feet running up and down stairs filled our home. There were 12 of us, ages 2 to 41. We were celebrating a new year, friendship, the fact that each of our families made it to the evening without signs of the cold or flu.

And as evening turned into night and we tried to talk the youngest child into crawling into a sleeping bag, we celebrated the fact that we were still celebrating.

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