Last year I had the opportunity to meet artist Sheryl Oring at the College Art Association Annual Conference here in Chicago. Sheryl was a part of an artist panel entitled "Artist Citizen: What is to be done," a collection of extraordinary artists and activists examining the relationship between art practice and political or social issues, declaring that art practice can and should spark social change. Sheryl concluded the panel by presenting one of her most recent projects, "Creative Fix: Looking to Artists for Change." The project is comprised of a series of short video clips of everyday citizens proposing their Creative Fix. Sheryl asks, "What would you do to fix the country if you could do anything at all?" The responses include everything from a nationwide distribution of disco balls to a $1 charge for entering/leaving the U.S. in order to fund food and housing for the homeless. After hearing Sheryl share about the project and watching some of the video clips, I was inspired to offer my own Creative Fix as a small contribution to Sheryl's compilation of artists for change: community dinners, gathering around a table to break bread together, coming together around our common need for food and fellowship.
There's something quite remarkable about "the table." It is an object. It is also a symbol. The table levels the playing field. When we gather around a table, we don't carry our titles, social statuses, or "stuff" with us. At the table, we come together around our common need for food and for community. This is something that all of humanity shares. When we break bread together, something happens. One of my favourite scenes in the movie Once (can't find the clip, you'll just have to watch the whole film...shucks) is when Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova find themselves at an informal dinner party. The table is crammed with people - everyone finding a corner or a sliver here or there to squeeze in with their beer and a bowl. Then they just sort of start singing and playing, sharing whatever musical gift they have with the table. It is a lovely hodgepodge of Irish folks, food, and music. A beautiful image of the table, of community, and the magic that happens when we break bread.
GOOD Magazine recently posted an interview with Michael Hebb - "Tables to Change the World." Michael Hebb is a "long-time believer in the idea that having dinner can change the world." Hebb believes that "the table - the place where people come together to share food - is our society's most important cultural site" (and I quite agree with him). Hebb is the initiator of a movement of people coming together to share a meal. In his interview, Hebb states, "I think that the unique thing about gathering people around a table is that it has a very finite scale and you have to rely on a much older sense of how the world can shift - the idea that committed people getting together and talking passionately about things that they're actually interested in can change the world." At the table, there is not only the powerful element of community, but there is the incredible potential for problem-solving, for conflict resolution, for sharing our passions and our dreams in hopes that we might actually make this world a better place.
Sunday night I saw a story on 60 Minutes on the "Hard times generation: homeless kids." It was incredibly heartbreaking to watch elementary school kids having to grapple with issues of homelessness and hunger. More and more lately, I find myself pausing before a meal, looking down at a beautiful plate of food, incredibly grateful for the abundance of my daily bread. I am blessed. I have always thought I lived rather simply, but now I think I live a rather extravagant life.
My grandfather made our table. By now, it is full of cracks and bruises, rather beaten and worn by all the hands, bowls of hot soup, mugs of steaming coffee, and heels of crusty bread. I consider it a symbol of my family. They say the hearth is the center of the home, but we don't have a hearth, so maybe ours can be the table. It's not a very big table, but I'm sure we've seen 10 people around it. I know that when we all scootch in, pause for a blessing, and begin passing, dipping, and serving - nothing else matters. The world may be in turmoil (and, it is), but at that table, I remember:
"The worst has already happened and been repaired...All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" (Julian of Norwich).