I love telling stories. I also love repeating them — just ask Ginger. I do, however, come by it honestly: it’s a family trait. One of my favorite repeatables is one I have heard my brother tell many times and comes from his days living in Akron, Ohio. His barber there was a man who had fled Lebanon back in the days when it was what Syria is in our present tense. He and his family had to leave Beirut on the spur of the moment in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs. One day, he was a successful business person and the next a poor refugee trying to figure out how to live. He became a barber. I don’t know why. Miller said whenever you asked the man how he was, he always had the same response: “Grateful.”
I retell the story today because I can think of no other word to describe how I feel on this day of my beginning and, at least according to dyslexic Mayans, our collective end. I am grateful for the family that helped to shape me, the places I have lived, the friends who surround me. I am grateful.
Thank you. Thank you. And thank you. Oh — and you, too.
Because one of my birthday gifts was three hours of time to read and write today, I went searching for poems and discovered this one by Joy Harjo, who was new to me and who comes from Oklahoma, where my friend Nathan Brown has just been named Poet Laureate. (Never miss a chance to shamelessly plug a friend.)
Perhaps the World Ends Here
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
Much of this day, I’m sure, will be spent around tables. It began this morning with Ginger and Rachel at Guglhupf, being fed by my friend Dave, who is the executive chef and all-around good guy, even if he is a Yankees fan. It’s no secret that the kitchen table is my working metaphor for life (and I suppose it’s the center of things actually as well). Today I am grateful for everyone at the table, for all of the ways I am fed and loved, and for the life that is mine.
And now — the Gratitude Dance.
Finally — someone that dances like I do.
Hey buddy, to my eye, that guy is one TERRIFIC dancer. So you must be, too. May this be a day filled with dancing, Milton. Love that poem, too. Thanks for all of it.
I miss kitchen tables, and what happens around them.
I am loving your journal. Just found it recently. I am one of your UBC kids who you made Chicken Kiev with for the church cookbook. Staying home today making coconut cookies with my son. Cooking is still such an important part of my life and alot of that I learned from you in your kitchen back in Fort Worth.
As if I wouldn’t remember you, Tricia. We made up “Freshen Up Chicken” for the UBC cookbook.
I’ve always been fascinated by the gravitational pull toward the kitchen that people feel. Often when I’ve held a gathering, everyone crowds into the kitchen, even if it isn’t a very big one. I’m reminded that the table I have–a scrolled oak base with an enamel top–belonged to my best friend’s mother. She gave it to us when we got our first apartment, and it’s been with me ever since. I will have known my friend Judy 50 years in Sept., and her parents were married more than 70 years ago, using that table when they were first married. My mother, many of our family of friends, David and his friends, some of my students, and countless others have supped there as well. The table has traveled some–to RI, NH, CT, and now to New Mexico, where will will sit again with Judy, David, and my father-in-law at Christmas. And no doubt, David will be making some of the food, as he has become an avid cook.