Life Around the Dinner Table
You know the movie scene where the new kid in school walks into the cafeteria paralyzed with fear and dread wondering where they will sit to eat their lunch? Will someone invite her to sit or will she sit by herself cast aside by society to eat in loneliness and humiliation? The scene then cuts to a bathroom stall where she is eating her lunch while fighting back tears and praying no one comes in. Everyone can relate to this tropic scene because whether you were the prepubescent kid in the stall or the grown adult walking into your first day of a new job you understand the desire to be accepted and embraced and the utter fear of rejection and loneliness.
Growing up my family moved a lot, which meant I was in a perpetual state of being “the new kid”. That bathroom stall lunch scene . . . yeah . . . that was a real life episode from my middle school survival tale. But one gift moving gave me and my family was a constant openness to meeting new people. Living far from family and removed from our most recent friends, holidays could have been painful and lonely but they never were. My parents made it a point to make sure we never spent holidays alone. This meant often having a household full of near strangers sharing a meal together and celebrating whatever holiday happened to be on deck.
Any given holiday our house would be filled with the smells of my mom’s incredible cooking and the chatter and laughter of a hodgepodge of faces with all different stories, languages, cultures, and backgrounds. To be honest, sometimes this made for some awkward moments, which almost always turned into great bouts of laughter forging new friendships.
What makes the cafeteria scene so painful is that so much of our lives revolve around food and a table. Meals are a uniting force. They draw us together into a shared story and experience. They create a space where strangers become friends. As Cesar Chavez once said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
The transient nature of DC is something that makes this city unique. People often come here for a season and then leave to find their home somewhere else. If you are someone who is from here or who plans to stay here the constant coming and going of friends can be painful. Why even invest? Why waste the time with what might hurt?
If you’re reading this, you’re probably already one of the invested, which means you’re also familiar, as I am, with the pain of saying goodbye to good friends you’ve known here. That isn’t easy. But importantly, this community alway stays, and isn’t going anywhere, even if faces you see every day change. Bringing people together, that is the core of The Columbia Height Initiative’s mission. Whether that is for just a season or forever. We want to celebrate the beauty of our diversity and shared experience, drink in the history of our neighborhood, and invest in our shared future. We want to be the proverbial dinner table of Columbia Heights bringing people together to experience the fullness of community much like the fullness of our bellies after a Thanksgiving feast. So this season we invite you to the table and challenge you to invest well. Here’s to the feast of community that is Columbia Heights.
By Brianne Dornbush, Executive Director of The Columbia Heights Initiative