Meditations On A Flat Surface

Supper It seems (and I doubt I'm alone in this) that so many important things in my life occur while sitting at the dinner table. And it seems too, that these things of import that are done, planned or said at the dinner table are accompanied by a bottle of wine. And the symbolism of this strikes me as being somehow fundamental to our civilization.

This is no revelation. You could spend a lifetime imagining the meaning of the dinner or supper table depicted in art. The most powerful piece of dinner table imagery in Western Civilization is found in Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper".

In da Vinci's masterwork, the supper table is the setting when Jesus makes an important announcement:

Now when the even was come, he sat down with the twelve.
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?
And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.
–Matthew 26

More recently, Judy Chicago used the symbol of "The Dinner Table" as the vehicle to celebrate female accomplishment throughout history and correct the cultural blemish of women being left out of our traditional recordings of history.

My experiences with the dinner table are neither as noted as da Vinci's or Chicago's, nor are they as culturally significant as the messages that are delivered by the representation of the last supper of Jesus or the crime of an incompletely rendered history of civilization.

But they are mine and they are significant.

More than anything, the dinner table is where I have listened and talked. The dinner table is where my father told me he had cancer. It is where my first baseball coach sat and told me he would insist I join his team despite the fact I would not have the time to "try out". The dinner table is where I was told I would be divorced. The dinner table almost always where I celebrate my birth. It's where I sat when I announced to my employer that I must leave to start my own business. And the dinner table has always been the place where I've become intimately familiar with the most important people in my life.

Of late, the dinner table is where I've been expressing plans and declaring intentions and explaining important changes in my life to important people. There is something about a table where food is shared and wine is poured and consumptive satisfaction is achieved that inspires me to tell the whole truth.

I think it is the importance of the dinner table in my life that has convinced me that a real home ought to have a room dedicated to dining. The dining room is more and more left out of floor plans for homes when they are conceived and drawn today. I'm told our (Americans) lifestyle has changed such that the dining room is not nearly as obligatory as it once was (we eat out in more often today). Back in the 1960s and 1970s when my grandfather and father built hundreds of homes, it would have been unnatural to build a dwelling without a dining room or nook for casual dining. 

Almost two years ago I began to rebuild my life by purchasing furniture to fill a home. My first purchase was not a bed. It was not a couch. It was not a television. It was not a chair. It was not even a bar. It was a beautiful dining room table made of mahogany that easily seats 8. I live alone.

Of course, what's important is not the size of the table nor the material from which the table is fashioned. What's important is who you gather around the table. When you look back at your life—or when you look forward at what you want from your life—look at who was or who you want at your table. This view from the table will tell you what's important in your life. It will tell you what you can expect from your life. Because everything of real importance, the most important things you'll say or received will occur around that flat surface upon which you experience the real and important matters.


17 Responses

  1. Jo Diaz - February 4, 2010

    Couldn’t have written this one better myself. Thanks for a brief interlude with your blog, Tom.

  2. Marcia - February 4, 2010

    So is your dining table reserved strictly for dining? Or, like many of us, has it become a desk? Mine does double-duty: Most days it’s my desk; when I do a sit-down meal the papers and computer get whisked away. I turn it around, throw on the tablecloth or mats and instant dining room. I like the latter best; and certainly the most memorable events have taken place with family and friends gathered around the table….

  3. fredfric koeppel - February 4, 2010

    a lovely and important meditation, Tom, thanks …

  4. Oscar Quevedo - February 5, 2010

    I’m always waiting for a good dinner table to open a special bottle and immortalize the moment. In any case it was not on a dinner table I had the pleasure to meet you!

  5. David Kelly - February 5, 2010

    Interesting article.
    Here in the UK the Dinner Table is still integral in many families lives, but it seems our Take-Away culture is slowly declining this feature.
    I have often sat and made many announcements and made many decisions too over a good bottle at the table.
    This, I believe is a diminishing aspect to family life.
    Lets hope the wine consumption does not go the same way!

  6. Chris Jones - February 5, 2010

    Beautiful. Thank you Tom.

  7. Thomas Klafke - February 5, 2010

    Love it Tom, the dinner table is the most important place for many of us. It’s where I hope to keep my family together and help them understand the important things in life. I think we all need to spend more time there and not rush out dinners through, but rather sit and enjoy each other and eat and drink at a slow pace. Cheers~

  8. Thomas Pellechia - February 5, 2010

    Yup, conviviality is everything.

  9. Michael Hughes - February 6, 2010

    I really like what you had to say here & agree completely. The dining room & the kitchen are the heart of a home. Without a welcoming, warm place to gather over a good glass of wine & plate of food its not a home.

  10. david - February 6, 2010

    well said…even if the dinner table becomes a short-term hub for people as they come and go, it still stands as a focal point for communication, community conviviality and family.

  11. Kate - February 6, 2010

    Thank you for sharing! What a great perspective on something that is losing its relevance in today’s society.

  12. Ed - February 6, 2010

    Great piece. I remember the importance of the dinner table growing up both from my parents and theirs. “No singing at the dinner table!” they would often say. However, as a married adult with no children, we do not use our dining room much for dining.
    Our dining room is well-equipped and can seat many, so while we may not use it for ourselves as a couple, we use it quite often for dinners, parties and, of course, wine events with our friends. Most pictures of tastings on my blog are from within that dining room. So, it is still a place to gather with friends that is comfortable and allows focus on just those who are important to you.
    Thanks for reminding me (us) to reflect on ours as you have yours.

  13. Kathy - February 7, 2010

    Beautiful writing. Real at its core.
    To all: post this in your kitchen and live by it.
    Thank, Tom.

  14. lynn - February 8, 2010

    Sweet, Tom…..and thanks for taking the time to open a bottle of “heart”. What a welcome and refreshing interlude. What next comes to my mind is all the “table” scenes in movies I have loved…..

  15. lynn - February 8, 2010

    oh, and though I’m sure someone has already said it, may your new table be filled with warmth, humor, friendship and enjoyment….to say nothing of good grub and wine

  16. Marybeth - February 11, 2010

    Wow. I’ve had this thought so many times. it’s one of the most rewarding things about our work – bringing people to the table. thanks for expressing it so clearly and elegantly.

  17. battery - February 13, 2010

    have often sat and made many announcements and made many decisions too over a good bottle at the table.
    Beautiful. laptop battery hp dv6000 battery acer aspire one zg5 battery apple a1189 compaq presario c700 battery hp dv2000 battery sony vgp-bps9/b

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