The table came with the house, and like the house, it was old, a little tired, and rather nondescript. With the table came four mismatched chairs, which we accented from time to time with Richard’s desk chair that leaned so far back, one of our friends fell out of it while playing Catchphrase.
I remember one of the first times we all sat around the table. We’d just moved in to the house on Bemis at the beginning of a Fall semester at Calvin, and we gathered around the table to write up a house contract and a cleaning schedule.
The contract included some fairly standard rules: don’t eat other people’s food, don’t play loud music when someone’s studying, follow the cleaning schedule. Others were rather specific: don’t eat Laura’s cheese (imported Dutch Gouda) and don’t sit on the end of Laura’s bed. This wasn’t about my need for privacy, but rather a simple acknowledgment that if you sat on the end of the bed, the box spring and mattress would flip off the base like a see-saw and the whole thing would come crashing down.
Jess, as I wrote your wedding sermon last week on Proverbs 3:1-6, I grinned as I thought about that bed. If ever there was an example of how God’s laws are designed for our flourishing, this was it.
A few weeks went by in our new house, and we relished being free of the dorms, and making a little home for ourselves, and falling into new routines and bus routes and class schedules. And then one day, Richard, you and I were home by ourselves, and you called me down to the dining room table.
“Laura, I have to tell you something.”
Oh boy. This was going to be serious. I thought back over the last week. Had I played music too loudly? Did I neglect to wipe down the blinds in the living room? Did you hate the way I chewed?
“Jess and Christina already know.”
Well shoot. So you’re the messenger enlisted to bear the bad news. Are you chucking me out? Did something happen to Jess and Christina? Is one of them leaving?
Oh. I laughed, nervously but with a great deal of relief. Okay, I said. And you told me your story, and I’m sure I asked a couple questions, but it wasn’t a very long conversation.
We carried on with life, the same, but a little different. Our life trajectories have pulled away from each other since that conversation. You eventually moved to Halifax and found a community that helped you understand and explore who you are. I went to seminary and deepened my commitment to a church and a theology that struggles to make space for you. I told you, as we danced together at Jess’ wedding, that we are the definition of an unlikely friendship held together by love. And I laughed with just a hint of ache.
As the weeks turned into months, we became more of ourselves around that table. Each of us invited the others into the way the world was opening up for us. We’d sit and do homework long into the night. Jess would make us recite weird sounds or tongue twisters, even looked into our ear canals as she studied speech therapy. Christina would read children’s books to us and litter the table with colored paper as she prepared for a day of student teaching. Richard would burst from his room to describe a scene from some new show or movie he was studying. I’d enlist you to make up mnemonic devices to help me remember Greek vocab words.
I remember marveling, once, at the fact that we each had such distinct interests, and how glad I was to know a little more about a corner of the world through each of you.
But we found our common loves around that table too. We talked about boys, and eventually pulled out Richard’s chair more regularly as Nathan joined our ranks next to Christina. We ate dinners together – usually made by Christina and always including spinach. And after eating said healthy dinner, someone would inevitably ask, “So…Spoonlickers?” And off we went to the far-too-close frozen yogurt shop where you’d all explore different flavors and I’d get the same combo every time.
Five years later, I still get that exact combo of ice cream and toppings. And I know you make fun of me for this, but I’m unapologetic. In part, because vanilla+cookie dough+pretzels+strawberries+caramel is delicious. But also because every time I get ice cream, I think about you. And the life we lived around our table.
We sat at a different table this weekend, draped in linen and scattered not with colored paper, but roses. Jess in the middle next to her groom. And as we sat and laughed and “remembered when,” I recognized in myself a me that is there because of you. A me who values companionship, who feels the satisfaction of a clean house, who loves Veronica Mars, and who values people’s stories.
I’m sure there’s another sermon example in there somewhere – about coming as a disparate people to a table and discovering ourselves in one another because we all find ourselves in the Christ. That we’re all one family, held together by more than our differences.
But today all I want to do is say thank you for living life with me around our table. For being my Bemis Family. And for finding new tables where we can introduce each other to the selves we are now, influenced by many things, but always shaped by those years around our table.