Sometimes I feel like my life is confluence of success and disappointment. Or is that all people's lives?
I often think that I am some sort of mystery to myself. That I can't quite get in touch with myself. That others don't understand me. That I am misunderstood. Or simply confused. Other times my ambitions are more than met. My hopes answered. My friends and family are all around.
It is like this blog. Lame and empty. Ignored. Yet to anyone who reads it (or writes it) it is all there. Always already there. I see my quest to catch the real me. Hopes for family. Attempts to address legacies of neglect. Attempts to survive and repair the worst and live up to all the good fortune. Hoping to stand out. Hoping to be thought clever. A confluence of ambition and reflection.
A conversation at work about “What is your purpose in life?” led to several days of thinking, and after considering 4 or 5 very different answers to the question, I realized that this goal is a major part of my purpose in life. I thought about what I’d want to be remembered for when I was dead. I thought about what brings me reliable happiness and what really matters most, and the “purpose statement” I came up with is: “Create joy around the family table”.
I want family and food to be the materials I work with to create a meaningful life. At our house, food takes in lots of topics: ecology, health, culture, history. I want the table to be a platform for all those topics, as well as a time to reflect, to be generous and thankful. I want it to welcome new friends and reunite family. I want the table to spread that joy through all who eat there.
When I was younger, I was keenly interested in politics. I was ambitious. I thought I’d mark the world through words and laws and policies. As I’ve gotten older the ambition abated. I find myself more occupied with domestic matters, but not as a distraction, but rather as a more meaningful way for me to influence the world. I don’t want to dictate goodness with law, I want to spread joy, and I’d rather do it with food than with politics.
I typed out this goal “make family dinner a priority” not really knowing what I even meant when I wrote it. I just knew I had a longing for something and that I wasn’t already doing all I could to meet it. Out of the ignorant beginning, I think I found my purpose in life.
The last step I think I’ll take on this goal before I mark it done is to change my hours at work so I make it home by 4:30 to help plan and prepare our meal. When my work is more aligned with my real goals in life, I know I will have done what I needed to do to make family dinner the real priority it ought to be.
"What started as a simple idea turned into an inkling of my life's calling."
How I did it: It starts with caring. If you are thinking about this goal you probably already care about food and your family.
Congratulations! This act of caring is not so common as you might think. Not everybody is willing to make family life a priority ahead of work, hobbies, romance, or even television. But to combine this concern for family with food, in an era of fast food and diabetes, well you are truly in a unique class of people.
It wasn't always so. Our parents and their parents grew up with meals around the family table before the television or video games entered the home. They were likely involved with the food preparation or the setting of the table, as well as the clean up from the meal. They might have even said grace before eating.
In our house, the big effort was leaving work early enough so that the time spent preparing the meal didn't turn into a stress fest. It also required choosing simpler meals with more realistic preparation times.
As I worked on this goal, I found myself feeling more and more connected to traditions all around me. My grandmother was a food editor for a newspaper and a great gifter of cook books. I drew on these and her inspiration in my cooking. At the table, meals started with a saying of grace followed by each of us recounting our day. No meal was perfect, either in preparation, gastronomy, or even manners, but each meal fell into place, brick by brick, into a wonderful foundation. A desire for good family life had been a goal I did not know how to articulate. It found it's shape in nightly dinner, with all the mess and struggle. It became a joy.
Lessons & tips:
Find a way to rapidly decompress if you are coming home directly from work (I sit in the car for a few stolen moments)
Don't have anything stressful scheduled before or after dinner
Involve everyone in the preparation and cleanup
Resources: Here are a few cookbooks that I found helpful in tackling this goal.