A few years ago, my in-laws gave us a set of gorgeous and outrageously expensive crystal wine glasses. You could hold one up to the light and if you turned it just so, create a shower of kaleidoscopic rainbows over the table. When I drank wine from them I could imagine my Bota Box red blend was transformed into a Château Lafitte-Rothschild.
But the more we used them, the more I worried they would be broken. I found myself edgy during dinner parties, watching that each glass was being set down gently and not too close to the table edge. I cleared the dishes myself and then hand-washed each glass while my guests were still sitting around the table enjoying others’ company.
And then, inevitably, I broke one. I leaned across the table too quickly, my elbow knocking the delicate goblet to the floor in a deafening crash, wine spraying across the room as if I had murdered my guests. My hand flew to my mouth, tears welled in my eyes. Before I could speak, David said, “Thank God. I hated those damn glasses. My parents meant well, but they are so not us. Can we go back to the jelly jars now?” As he spoke, my friends started sweeping up broken glass, unsurprised and unperturbed to be covered in wine. David poured me a new glass of wine in a jelly jar and we all went outside to watch the sunset.
He’s right. We aren’t crystal goblet people. We’re jelly jar people. It is about the gathering, not the presentation. Those glasses sparked some crazed desire in me — as if everything looked perfect meant it would actually be perfect. But perfect isn’t comfortable or meaningful. Perfect isn’t my people.
When my people come over, they don’t knock. They just wander in and start lifting lids to smell things on the stove. They kiss me, handing me a baby or a covered dish so they can shed their coats, which they throw in a pile. Our dishes rarely match and my cakes are often lopsided. The wine mostly comes from a box and David is probably going to ask early arrivals to chop vegetables while he stirs something aromatic on the stove. We always look slightly disheveled in the photos, someone’s eyes invariably closed or a blur in the background from children playing hide-and-seek. It won’t make for marvelous photos, but it always makes for miraculous memories, that alchemical magic of celebration, food, and being with your tribe. The sounds of laughter bubbling over the music, of forks clinking on plates, the swoosh of the fridge door being opened and closed. No one wears shoes at my table. Someone will have to sit on the couch to eat and the dog will invariably wander in to beg for scraps.
Feeding each other is a demonstration of love. Food sustains our physical bodies, but eating together nourishes our souls. Life is delicious and I like to gobble it with my people beside me. The ones that know there will never be a wall between us but always a table, filled with bread and salad and soup and pizza and tacos and whatever cheese I can find in the back of the deli drawer.
I think about Jesus sometimes and that last supper. How he knew it was the end, so he gathered his people around to partake of a meal, which was both a simple human urge and a sacred sharing of a historic moment. Italian archeologist Generoso Urciulo and Egyptologist Marta Berogno claim that the disciples would have been sitting on cushions around a low table (not seated on one side of a table, as depicted by Leonardo da Vinci). They believe that, in addition to bread and wine, the menu probably included beans, fish stew, bitter herbs, olives, and lamb meat.
I hope it got raucous. The disciples cried, but they probably laughed a lot too. When Jesus revealed that one of them would betray him, I bet punches and fish stew were thrown. Jesus was a jelly jar kind of dude, a sit around on cushions kind of guy, a man of the people more concerned with connection than appearance. If I knew I would soon die, I too would throw a massive dinner party and invite all my people, break bread and spill wine and slaughter the lamb and hug and cry and laugh and raise a glass to the heavens and leave the dirty dishes in the sink for the morrow. You can keep your quiet, polite dinners where everyone uses the correct fork. Give me a broken glass affair anytime.