Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Breaking Bread

The never-ending quest for food tends to distract a person.

Sound crazy? Allow me to elucidate.

I know we are a long way from our slash and burn agriculture ancestors, and not much farther than that from our hunter/gatherer ancestors. Both cultures focussed exclusively on the acquisition and consumption of food, so that one might live another day to continue that pursuit.

Supposedly, we have advanced from those cultures. And in many ways, we have. We now neglect meals so that we might work longer hours so that we might acquire the BMW/X-Box extravaganza/5000 sq. foot home/college funds/retirement nest eggs. We still work like loons for what we desire. It is simply that our desires have changed.

Yet, there is something that got missed along the way. The joy of sharing a meal together has become tarnished, if not outright lost, in much of today's culture.

A priest whom I deeply respect sermonizes at least once a month on the importance of families having a meal together at least once a day, no matter how hectic the schedules are.

Many families nowadays say that this is impossible. We are lucku enough in the hoody household to share dinners together once a day.

Yet, even these meals can chafe after awhile. Questions harass the father (HOW will I get the money to feed all these mouths adequately) and the mother (WHAT am I going to cook TODAY???). Don't get me wrong. The meals and fellowship are fine; but those lingering questions can dampen some of the wonder of the fellowship.

Then, with the holidays, comes the company. In this case, my in-laws AND my wife's eldest brother, wife, and three younger children (all girls aged 15-24). My brother-in-law is the CEO of a very healthy, mid-sized company from the east coast. He lives very comfortably; nice new house in a tony, upper-class town in Connecticut. Not way up there, but definitely out of my league in the socioeconomic food chain.

So. The first day, my lovely wife cooks up an outstanding meal of chicken parmesan. We spend much time making sure the plates are all just so, that the food is just right (not too hot, not too cold). . .and then we find we don't have enough ROOM to seat everyone. . .so the younger boys get exiled to the kitchen. . .where they clamor for assistance througout the meal. . .keeping mostly my wife on the run.

Was it a good meal? Sure. But I couldn't help but run the occasional bill through my head (MAN it costs a lot to feed 15 people). Do I sound begrudging? Please, forgive me. These are not thoughts that I either welcome or encourage. We are simply on a modest budget, and we need to be careful. I'd do it all over again the same way given a second chance.

And my wife was never really able to RELAX and share time with her family. She was being Martha, responding to the needs of the family.

So, we collectively decided (everyone. My wife, me, the in-laws) that we would do it differently the second night. My brother-in-law at first suggested -on HIS tab- that we go to a rather upscale restaurant. My wife and I thanked him graciously but demurred, as we have two kids under 7 who would not only dislike the atmosphere, but probably hate the food as well.

We then suggested a somewhat more modest Italian place, despite the fact that my in-laws area somewhat snobbish concerning Italian food. But, that is where we went.

And I discovered for the first time the real value in breaking bread with others, free of worry. We didn't have to cook, we could order whatever we wished and didn't have to worry the bill (as my brother-in-law assured us repeatedly that once in awhile he could manage this sort of shindig with no worries.). And we had a ball. Great conversation, great food, and finally being able to catch up with these relatives that we had not seen -in some cases- in over 10 years.

In terms of "breaking bread", in that sense of it being good food with good friends, it was the best meal I have had in quite some time.

And a lesson for me that my more "mundane" meals at home need to have that same care-free attitude, and to truly cherish and enjoy the company of others.

Many, many thanks to my brother-in-law Carl and his bountiful generosity in allowing such a meal to take place.

Pictures may be forthcoming.
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