AROUND THE TABLE | Sarah Petch writes about the comforting and healing powers of gathering around a table with the people she loves most.
by Sarah Petch
We stand in the dark winter night, our breath making steaming clouds as we stamp our feet in a little dance to keep warm. Excitement fuels our impatience as we wait for the door to open. Suddenly it does. There is a flood of light, a gush of warmth, the smell of something hearty and delicious, and smiling faces. Warm, soft embraces follow.
We make ourselves at home as we are always encouraged to, the children playing, the adults helping to prepare dinner and pour drinks. A game of chase and tickle begins with Grandad and I hear the children squeal in delight. The minutes pass and the doorbell continues to ring until we are all together and whole. We gather in the dining room, the deep blue of the walls cocooning us together, and our shoulders relax, we are all here, we are the best of ourselves. Together again.
We laugh and joke and tease, we remember the last time that we were all together, we share troubles that we are having. We eat and drink and create new memories. We know if someone is not their self, we can see it in the flicker of a face or the movement of their body. We know each other as well as we know ourselves. These people that I share a meal with today know the best of me and the very worst and yet they always forgive, forget and love unconditionally.
“We gather in the dining room, the deep blue of the walls cocooning us together, and our shoulders relax. We are all here, we are the best of ourselves. Together again.”
We poke fun at each other about the same things we have always done, a childhood innocence or a teenage embarrassment, we laugh at them now as much as when they first happened. These playful jibes and jokes are familiar and they anchor us in a world that is constantly spinning. This moment together is a safe haven, no one can touch us. We are reminded of who we are and we are able to breathe away the badness and love ourselves anew.
There were six of us in the beginning but the years have seen us grow, husbands, partners and children, we now make twelve. Between us we have driven over six hundred miles to be together and there is the sense of elation in the room that comes with having finally arrived after a long journey. We are excited and at ease.
The food is plentiful and delicious and we tuck in, admiring the feast and thanking the cooks. It is warm in this room, warm from the fire and the closeness of bodies, warm from the glow from a glass of something fizzy, and warm from the peace that comes from a moment of contentment.
I look up at our mother and she is still and calm, smiling and listening intently to a story from one of her adult children. Her eyes are bright as she listens and her cheeks are flushed from a day spent in the kitchen, roasting and baking for her guests. Her hair is etched with silver now, but she is as she has always been and never more herself than in this moment. She will enjoy this time that we are all pieced back together. It is a short while, but it is long enough for us all to go back into the world stronger and braver than when we arrived.
Here together we are given the chance to heal and remember what this chaotic world is really about. This moment, this day, these people are all that I really understand. Being with them is a warm blanket on a cold day. I close my eyes for a fleeting moment and soak them all in. The scent of Chanel on my sister, the smell of cold winter air and fresh smoke on my brother. I hear their voices and the choir of their laughter.
How this table has changed and grown as we’ve aged. There was a time when this was an everyday event and taken for granted, a soothing normality to be enjoyed forever, I thought. Now as a mother myself I feel how quickly time moves, how transient every experience is and so I take this all in today and love each of them with all of my heart. We will not be together forever, but we will be together today and there is never a time that I live in the moment so much as when we are one, again.
Sarah Petch lives on the Northumberland coast, where she enjoys blustery walks on the beach with her children and dogs. As well as writing she loves to bake and lose herself in a good book.