Someday I am going to write a brilliant essay on the link twixt dinner table discussions and the making of people with opinionated and highly convicted souls. I have a sneaking suspicion of late, you see, that much of my vim for ideals and zest for life came from the rollicking discussions (i.e., friendly arguments) that took place on a nightly basis in my growing up years. I cannot help but wonder how much of my thought has been formed in the candlelit half hour after dinner. It’s something that’s on my mind a good bit of late as I ponder the importance of family and community to the shaping of culture. I was reminded of it again tonight when friends came over and we just happened into a debate about “calling” and “vocation”, followed by a hearty wrangle over the heart religion of John Wesley. The candles guttered low, our latest mountain storm wailed out the dim window and we talked the evening away.
I suppose my interest in the family tradition of discussion is piqued again because of my renewed appreciation for my family and the gifts of thought and heart they passed on to me. It is highly fashionable of late to reach the teen and early twenties years and make the supposedly cathartic move of rejecting much of one’s childhood values. I think, to an extent, I was tempted to this especially in the area of family opinion. I wanted to have my own, quieter, more introverted thoughts. The temptation to autonomy in this particularly individualistic culture is strong, especially when the rest of the family would like to argue you out of it. My brother once spluttered in mingled pride and exasperation that “you know, we’re like these big, noisy families you see in movies, like the family in Big Fat Greek Wedding, or wait, I know, the mafia.” Hmm. Perhaps a slight exaggeration.
And yet, in a strange way, I’m proud of us; proud even of our likeness to those infamous, noisy families. For like them, we have a current of shared thought, strong convictions, a hearty way of seeing the world and believing any idea to possible. Even in my more autonomous teen moments, those ideas and convictions held me to a way of living that has brought me into the sunlight of the present with a strong heart and steady mind. In those dinner time hours, comforted by feasting, gentled by candlelight, my belief was forged, my ideas tested, refined. And I am finally coming full circle, realizing how blessed I am to have parents who wanted to engage my mind, to have the freedom to bandy thoughts, to speak doubts, to experiment with my own new-grown intellect.
So this is my rather random tribute to the family dinner table and its endless debates. To the color and life, the sparkle of argument and words. To my parents, willing to engage the growing minds of their children. To the hours of words woven into ideas, I pay my tribute with a wakened soul and mind. Those hours have formed this living heart. May you all find the same in your own home, on a stormy, candlelit evening of your own.