More than anything, perhaps, the Thanksgiving holiday is marked by messes large and small. Travelers by the millions stalled in airports and on highways. Kitchens from coast to coast piled up with pots and dishes. And some of the biggest messes of all, inside human hearts, anticipating or already experiencing the challenges of gathering across the great divides that have always run through families and friendships.
I have been recalling the big Thanksgiving gatherings of my childhood when our dinette table became too small for our family’s growing gathering. At least one year that I can remember, we moved the feast to the basement rec room and converted the ping pong table to a giant dinner table supplemented by a picnic table for the children an arm’s reach away. Recalling that gathering, and the fraught dynamics of holidays then and now in a nation so deeply divided, I recently drew up a few rules for containing the potential messiness of hosting a ping-pong Thanksgiving. Whether your gathering is large or small, or congenial or cantankerous, I share them here as a bit of leavening for a heavy hearted time. (A poem by Alberto Ríos is included at the end of this blog for a Thanksgiving reading of greater substance and style!)
Rules for a Ping Pong Thanksgiving
When your gathering outgrows your dining room,
the ping pong table in the basement rec room might just do.
But you will need new rules.
First, take down the net.
Gratitude – and almost any gathering –
will do better if you don’t take sides.
Next, tell the family patriarch,
or any stand-in for that role,
there will be no head or foot,
just four wide sides that must be shared.
Then, gather every chair you have,
and borrow a few more,
knowing each will come up short.
This table just high enough
to make everyone feel a little smaller.
That’s okay, too.
Cover the table with layered cloths,
concealing all white boundary lines.
In this game, everybody’s in.
Put the paddles away.
They can only lead to trouble.
Finally, leave the middle empty.
No one will be able to reach it.
No one needs to.
Let this centerpiece of spaciousness
make an equivalent openness of heart
and mind on all sides,
while tugging with a pull of gravity and gratitude
that keeps everyone at the table,
welcomed and whole, just as they are –
the true end game of this match and day.
If it’s a more eloquent tone you’d like to strike for the holiday, maybe you’ll want to read Alberto Ríos’ poem “When Giving Is All We Have,” so beautifully honoring the many faces of giving and gathering, occurring on holidays or on any day. Or consider the prayers I’ve included in earlier Thanksgiving blog posts:
With gratitude for the table-time we’ve shared, literally or figuratively, I wish you all a day of thanks and giving.