My pastor told a story awhile back about an extended-family visit at Thanksgiving. The discussion turned to politics. His family left in a huff, before the meal was over.
A member of our church was at the dinner. “Your family is just like everyone else’s,” she said.
He laughs as he tells this story. I don’t think it’s very funny. I think it’s another symptom of our polarized, angry society.
In their lovely cookbook Jerusalem, authors Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi trace the culinary history of their shared city. It’s a city splintered into various factions, chief among them Arab vs. Israeli. People stay within their ethnic, religious and political groups, surrounding themselves with the familiar.
Yet food acts as a salve among the factions. City residents shop at the same markets, the authors say. Arabs eat at restaurants owned by Jews; Jews eat at restaurants owned by Arabs. Slowly, a dialogue commences.
“It takes a giant leap of faith,” Tamimi and Ottolenghi write, “but we are happy to take it … to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”
Maybe hummus can bring Americans together.
During a television interview I recently saw, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told how congressional women get together regularly for off-the-record dinners. They break bread and get to know each other as people, not the hated “others” across the aisle.
In her new biography of Washington hostess Susan Mary Alsop, Caroline de Margerie writes about the bipartisan parties Alsop held at her Georgetown home. Some of the premier political and thought leaders of the time sat down at her table together. There — amidst the soups and salads and dinner-party banter — ideas were exchanged. Positions were debated. Agreements may have been forged, but I imagine it’s more likely that no one’s mind was changed on key, fundamental beliefs.
Still, no one left in a huff before dinner was over.
I’ve long believed that mealtime is holy. There’s something sacramental about sitting down at a table and sharing sustenance. In our house, it’s the breath between our busyness; a time to stop and take stock of each other’s day.
It isn’t always pretty. While our dinners often mine the mundane (homework, weekly schedules, Nintendo privileges), they just as often veer into some hot-button topics (high school sex, gay marriage, Nintendo privileges). By articulating our positions on these things and listening — listening — to our children’s thoughts, my husband and I get a sense of who both we and our kids are. We get an insight into how they think; into what they hold dear. We traipse a little further along the road of getting to know them as individual people rather than tiny, duplicate, mini-me’s.
I can’t help but think a little dinner among adversaries might accomplish the same things for our country.
This Thanksgiving, I challenge us to be better than we have been. To come to our communal tables with kindness and civility. To see this shared meal as an opportunity to learn more about the others sitting around us.
We may disagree on some issues. Heck, we may disagree on them all. But let’s not leave the table in a huff.
Let’s let hummus bring us together.