One night in March we decided to go out for a meal at a Mexican restaurant near us. My son joked that we better enjoy it, because it might be our last meal in a sit-down restaurant for a while. Little did we know how right he would be. Within days of that event, Pennsylvania was put under a stay-at-home order and all our restaurant options became takeout or delivery. This week, we learned that the quarantine mandate will continue until at least June 4th in our area.
Eating an evening meal together has always been a priority for my family, but it has not always been easy to accomplish. When our kids were young, our main concern was seeing that they ate the food we made for them without causing too much mess. It was not easy to have adult conversations when you were trying be sure that veggies were eaten and that apple sauce was not being flung across the room. As they got older, activities increased, the schedule got full and meals seemed to be eaten with efficiency as the primary goal. How quick could we finish the food and do the dishes so that we could get started on homework or go outside to play a game. Food was mainly fuel and not much else.
To be fair, we did have lots of fun times around the table, especially for special occasions like birthdays, holidays and my favorite – the cookout. I do love to grill. We always did our best to have guests over when we could and our kid’s friends were regulars at the dinner table. Interestingly, as the boys got older and the conversations became more complex, it did not matter so much what we ate. Pizza was a great excuse for a gang of boys to gather around the table and we learned what was happening in their lives at that moment. More often than not conversations revolved around sports, school activities, and things going on at work. Sometimes the discussion strayed into politics, culture and relationships. Occasionally, we talked about matters of faith and belief.
In recent weeks, the evening meal has taken on new meaning. With the current quarantine restrictions in place, we know who we are eating with every night. No guests are allowed. It has required more thought and planning on our part to make the meals interesting and not too repetitive. Our son has decided that he wants to be healthier and so he has chosen to eat lots of salads and has encouraged us to do the same. We often prepare the meal and set the table together. Sometimes, I even cook when Deb gets home later than I do. What has really changed, however, is the pace of the meal. No one is in a hurry these days and we tend to linger over the conversation. While we do take time to ask about the more mundane aspects of life, we also seem to delve into deeper issues more easily. Often, after the meal is finished, we go for our evening walk and continue the discussion.
As I read the gospels, I am fascinated by the number of meals that are mentioned. Many of the significant events of Jesus’s ministry took place while he and his disciples were eating together. He caused scandals by eating with outcasts, sinners and scoundrels. He celebrated at banquets, weddings and feasts. He spent time with his friends who often invited him for a meal. Some of his greatest miracles involved bread, fish and wine. In many ways, you could argue that “the meal” was central to his life and work. It is not surprising that his last evening with his disciples was spent in the upper room as they celebrated the Passover feast together.
As the Coronavirus crisis eases one day and restaurants begin to open again, I look forward to being able to eat out with my family. Hopefully, some of the lessons we have learned from these many meals at home will make a difference in the way we think and eat. While I will enjoy dining at one of the many great small restaurants in downtown Bethlehem, I will also be much more aware of how much the conversation around the table matters. Maybe I won’t be in such a hurry to get the check or move on to my next activity. Maybe I will finally learn to linger and simply treasure the time I have with others. I will certainly never take for granted the ability to eat a meal outside of my house and I will enjoy having others join me around our dining room table again.