Essay 7 of 52: Dinner

  "If the home is a body, the table is the heart - the beating center of it all."
 Shauna Niequist

I love giving campus tours. I love getting outside of the office, shoes clomping along the sidewalk, Fitbit filling up with steps.

I love telling future students some of my favorite locations and memories of campus. I also love the running ticker-tape of personal memories that I don't share, wouldn't share. Eating ice cream cones with Tyler while lazily strolling back to our side-by-side apartments. Picnicking outside the Koffee Kup with Annie.

But the Cafeteria, that is my favorite. On the way out the door, I turn back and look at the student and worried parents, and I reassure them that the food is good. That the best part is not doing your own dishes, and that some of my most treasured memories involve sitting around these same tables, doing life and eating meals with my friends.

In college, we called it Family Dinner, and we met each weeknight at 5:00. It wasn't formal or planned, it just happened. Like gravity. Like home. I remember coming in at 5:00 and closing the place down at 7:00. I remember inventing really strange combinations and getting creative enough to make my own egg-salad sandwiches using ingredients found at the salad bar. I remember buying a new yellow dictionary, on a whim, and bringing it with me to dinner. We laughed for hours about words like bumfuzzle, and playing definition roulette - choosing words at random to represent each other. It was ridiculous. It was incredibly fun in the way unplanned events can be.

I remember when my roommate's fiance moved to Washington D.C. for the semester, and we opened the doors of our tiny apartment for a goodbye dinner. The cake was yellow and shaped like Texas and everyone ate their favorite city. We played Catch Phrase and Pictionary and I got ridiculously mad when I found out the other team had been getting away with cheating for the past twenty minutes. The couches were full and people sat on the floor and didn't mind at all.

And then I moved away, far away from family and friends, to a country I'd never been, and I ate a lot of meals alone. Meals alone can only be survived in front of the TV, with shows like Felicity and Gilmore Girls. Shows with "your people" in it. Food like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese, that tasted like home and cooked up quickly. But meals like Christmas dinner shouldn't be eaten alone and one of my favorite people in the world, sweet Rae, kidnapped me from a pity party of the highest degree to eat Bulgogi and drink Cider. It didn't feel like Christmas, but I wasn't alone.

I remember being in high school and eating dinner with my parents, day in and day out. Meals like fried turkey and mashed potatoes and green beans, all smothered with fresh gravy. Sometimes we ate and left to do homework, but sometimes we lingered. For one hour or two, watching the sunset and talking about life. I remember thinking, even then, in the fog of adolescence, that this was different. This was special.

And other people found it too, friends who came for Tuesday dinner. For fajitas and soft tacos. Those friends felt it - fellowship around the table. We were filled. Physically and emotionally.

I remember my first date with Tyler - at Chili's because the restaurant we really wanted to eat at was full. The meal was decent but the conversation was terrible. I wasn't sure I wanted to date him and I let him fill the silence with words, words, words. Thinking about it makes me smile because now I can't get enough of dinner with Tyler. There isn't anyone I want to sit down at a table with more.

Sometimes we eat with the T.V. on, but those nights are rare and for that, I'm thankful. Most of the time, our meal is swift and sweet, catching up and filling up. But I love the possibility, the opportunity that waits dormant during each meal, opportunity for lingering. For magic. Sometimes it catches me off guard when I'm clearing the table, how blessed I am to sit down each night and feed my husband with food I made, food that is healthy and satisfying. And as we eat, we get to talk. And that talking is good.

We don't plan on having children anytime soon, but I can't wait until they get to come to the table. To talk about their days or push green beans around on their plate. I can't wait for them to see a marriage at the table, to see disagreements or frustration or compromise. That is life and that is real.

I hope you can look back and measure your good times in dinner time. That you can taste and smell and hear those memories. And I hope that you keep filling your table - with two or twenty. I always need a reminder, that my table is Holy.

*Photo Note: I TROLLED Facebook looking for that photo above, completely candid and perfectly capturing our Family Dinners. I love this picture.