I’m not a loud person. I don’t write op-eds or shout my thoughts during class. I don’t feel like I fit – I’m afraid to say something because, I might be wrong. But I admire people who give their opinion. Who have thoughts and opinions on things like infant baptism and an ideology that lines up with Hegel or Gadamer or St. Thomas Aquinas. But I don’t have something neat and I’m not confident my opinions are right. Where is there a table for me?
When I lived on Capitol Hill I went to a Baptist church on Sunday mornings. It was a ten minute walk, easy to get to, and every Sunday they served free lunch to the starving intern and college student populations that flock to the city in search of a place at a table. They would pile lasagnas or pieces of chicken or ham sandwiches, and once I think I saw pizzas, their white boxes stacked unevenly in the serving window. At those lunches there was a table of excited students – some from my program, some from schools in the city, a few post-college interns – always talking and laughing, gesticulating wildly with whatever was on their fork. I would creep down the hall towards the room after standing too long by myself in the “book sale” section of the church next to books about the loneliness of single life and searching in vain for the remarkably good looking man who had once talked to me as we both walked out of the metro at Union Station.
But I never sat at the table. I couldn’t bring myself to eat more than a piece of celery once, standing in the back, and I think my roommate once insisted that we at least eat some bread and spaghetti. I still hovered anywhere but that table of smiling, confident people talking loudly about their view of resurrection and grace and the “political game.” I assumed that their table was for the people who knew where they stood and who they were. Who had it sorted out. Who had opinions. Who didn’t stand too long next to books on singleness waiting for the mystery man from the metro.
I wish I had asked your question out loud, by sitting down next to one of them.
The thing about tables is that they’re these places of invitation and acceptance, a give and take between each person there, across the plastic blue tablecloth or the fine linen, three chairs apart or bumping elbows. The table in the Baptist church might not have seen or recognized me – but I don’t think I made myself all that visible. It felt at the time that I wasn’t qualified, wasn’t a part of the crowd, but I think the harder, quieter truth is that I wasn’t really listening for their invitation. And I didn’t trust that there was something I was going to offer simply by my presence, elbow against elbow, passing the extra napkins or the brownies or the salt.
Where is there a table for you? You are needed and welcomed in surprising places.
You can’t be everywhere, sweet pea, and perhaps you cannot have dinner at every table you encounter. But you can, when you come across people who make you think, who you admire, who cherish good words and ideas – you can pull up a chair.
It will not always work. I’m scared to give you this advice because there are moments when the grace runs dry and the harshness runs wild, and you aren’t invited to draw nearer. I’m sorry in advance for those moments.
But I am on the side of trusting that you bringing yourself, even without your loud and confident opinions is something wondrous. I am on the side of thinking it is worth it to pull up the chair, to believe you have something to bring with you, because you are.
I am on the side of believing that tables are the beginnings of the truly beautiful between people.
There is a table, many, in fact, for you in this world. Somewhere, there is a beautiful waiting to begin.