A Lifetime of Tables — May 21, 2015
There are tables of contents, the periodic table of the elements, issues to be tabled at a board meeting, and, let’s not forget, the multiplication tables. Philosophy classes often ponder the question of whether the piece of furniture you’re looking at is really a table, or just your understanding of the representation of a table. But let’s not be metaphysical here, instead let us ponder how we each seek a place at the table. The table at which we sit is where we hope to be understood, heard, nurtured, nourished, and be permitted to offer the same in return.
The family table is where I first learned about values. Some of these I agreed with, but others I could never accept. We children received our weekly allowances at my family’s table. I was paid $1.50 for cleaning the entire basement every week. This included scrubbing the basement’s cement floor on my hands and knees.
Schoolroom lunch tables were often the basis for gatherings of cliques. I brought lunches from home about half of the time, and ate the cafeteria’s food too. We freely exchanged food items with one another. Conversations were about what was happening in our homes, what was going on in our favorite television shows, what was happening in our small town, and anything going on in our school. Usually we raced through lunch in order to get to recess.
In high school I waited tables at a truck stop. This opened my eyes to a lot of new people and ideas. Some regular images were not pleasant, such seeing cigarettes put out in the leftover mashed potatoes and gravy on the diner plate. This was a complete gross out! I worked the late night shift after bar closing hours. The diners consumed vast amounts of bad coffee and were in no hurry to get someplace else.
It was while working farther away from home while in high school that I realized I really didn’t fit in with many people in my home town, and that this was okay. When I graduated from high school (with a scholarship that fully paid for my college education) my parents gave me a set of luggage, a bus ticket, and told me that I was no longer a member of the family.
Massage tables were a place to get my sore muscles relaxed after draining college work outs, and for sitting on while taping sprains and treating sports injuries. My focus was on my performance on the track.
Going to work after college was completed meant gathering with my colleagues to give and receive reports at conference tables. My life was frenetic. I enjoyed my independence. My life was full. Part of my life was time spent at bar tables. There I met with others who shared common interests and were my kindred spirits. This was the 1980’s. The music was loud, the dancing was fun, and the party hearty.
After the inevitable crash, and the re-creation of myself, my do-over career gave me a chance to make friends at the workplace break room table. Here my co-workers and I shared stories about our clients and moments about our lives. Life slowed down and I learned to accept and appreciate the ordinary. By now I had become familiar with someone known to many as “Bill W.” Many times I sat at tables with friends or strangers who shared stories of their past and present struggles and accomplishments. At these tables I learned new and far more enduring values of family.
By the 1990’s I was being asked with troublesome frequency by health care professionals to step up and sit on a medical office exam table. My life during the 1990’s until about 2005 was filled with illness, fear, pain and re-learning everything. Gradually I came out the other end of this tunnel, but I’ll be thankful to never take that ride again.
Now I sit at the patio table in a Clare Housing garden. Other residents, their visitors, the staff and volunteers may or may not join me at the table. Mostly we meet here for a few moments of relaxation and a chance to share the news of the day.
Gathering at the table is an ancient ritual. Tables existed long before the biblical time of Jesus and his disciples at the last supper as immortalized in the art of Leonard da Vinci. It’s at the tables in our homes, schools, offices and companies that we learn and grow. We build a party around a table. We play games at the table. It doesn’t matter what material was used for making the table; what is material is that you find solace and sustenance when needed while you are seated at the table.