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  • Writer's pictureDana Hayes

You Can't Eat, If You Haven't Prepared The Table

As a kid, my fondest moments are Sunday dinners at my grandmother and auntie house.

They lived in Uptown New Orleans, in a double, side by side. for 21 years of my life.

The preparation for Sunday would usually start on Saturday because we would go shopping, and then most of the time everyone would participate in chopping, cutting, marinating, whatever was needed to prep for Sunday dinner.

Then on Sunday we would go to their home after church to eat. Usually the food would be almost done, but while we waited, the kids had to set the table. we had to put out the plates, the napkin next to the plate, then the fork and other utensils. We had to get the "cold drink" out of the freezer. Then we would make our plates, and before we ate we had to say grace that commenced with everyone reciting a bible scripture. This was all before we ate!

This was our Sunday's, holiday's, and just because. There was an order to things that everyone knew, and no one questioned.

At the time it just seemed like unnecessary form & fashion, but as I think on it now it seems like the foundation to which I stand.

As I stated earlier, "you can't eat, if you haven't prepared the table.

Well unknowingly I've been preparing my table for life for a long time.

In the moments of preparation it felt more like unnecessary steps. It felt like no one else was going this way and/or direction. However with every meal or triumph, I realize the table was being set for a purpose. It was these dinners that instilled a sense of pride in everything I do.

For Instance,

Usher board meetings were a thing. It was excellence brought to life.

For Usher board meeting dinners, my grandmother and aunt took it up a notch because that's when the pretty doilies, the good China, and utensils would be taken out for all the ladies and gents to use. We (the kids) never sat and ate with them, but we helped prepare the meal and made sure the table was set of course.

It was these dinners that instilled the meaning of gratitude.

In comparison to what we see as everyday necessities, my Aunt and Grandmother had none but it never seemed that way. I always looked forward to being there. They didn't have fancy furniture, drapes, flooring. There was no open floor plan, matching walls or smart appliances. There was laughter, mischief, family, and community. Everyone felt apart. I never felt like they were lacking anything, never felt embarrassed or alone. There was only feelings of gratitude for the moment. We all enjoyed and looked forward to the moment we were in, and the ones to come.

Those dinners taught me about togetherness, compassion, and forgiveness, because at the table we were all able to eat regardless of others transgressions, what was waiting for us on Monday, or who was against us.

It was the purest form of love I knew at an early age. All in the form of food and fellowship.

It was this feeling, this sense of family that I continued to yearn for when I had a home, a table, a family.

It was a standard that preceded me.

Yet finding my own way there was hard. Somehow the path to get there became full with convenience and distractions. I.E. takeout, paper plates, plastic forks, and T.V. tables. Always looking for ways to bypass the process was normal now. Getting to the "finish line" felt like forever. Yet in the end I appreciated the beauty of what I accomplished.

It was the realization that Food alone doesn't make a great meal. It's the decor, the ambiance, and guest that make a great dinner. And now it all seems so relevant.

Just like Sunday dinners, in life, how I showed up mattered! The energy I exuded mattered, and the people I shared it all with mattered most!

It’s these stories and memories that allow me to hold my head high even when I feel inadequate. I know there are hopes, dreams, blood, tears, legacy that went into who I am. My table would not be complete without the time, energy, and love that went into the preparation of the food and the table.

Because of those moments there is pride in my work, there is joy in sharing it with others, and there is fulfillment in doing it all over again and again. These are things to affirm in and for our lives.

These moments weren't about the moments, it was more about remembering those who poured into you, the secrets that they kept to keep you innocent, the work they did to put it all on the table for not only nourishment of our bodies, but to give us the tools to win at life.

These moments are reason enough to be grateful, and see your table as more than table and chairs, but as the place you prepare with the future in mind.

Moral of the story: Thoughtfulness, mindfulness, effort, the desire to do it and do it well aren’t things that just happen. We are conditioned from moments, and for me it was the preparation for dinner that seems to stand out. No matter the meal it started from a place of love. It came from wanting to make sure everyone invited could be fulfilled. Community mattered. The joy of knowing what you gave was enough and that the people around you appreciated it. This is the ideal culmination I continue to seek for in my endeavors. I know that once I have these essentials, I too can eat and live abundantly.


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