By Stephanie Stillman
Every Friday night we gather for dinner – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The 20 of us schmooze over appetizers while we sarcastically speak of the past week. The sun has set long before we sit at the table and eat until we feel certainly full. Dessert is served and we all somehow make room for the sugary spread that Grammee has baked. She is always sure to have our favorites. For more than 20 years, I have sat at the Friday night table and participated as one with my family flock. During these Friday nights I learned a sense of belonging; we are in this together. And during these Friday nights I inherited the mantra: Don’t rock the boat, keep things as they are.
From a very young age, I wanted to make my family proud. I loved to see the smile on Papa’s face when I told him of a new job or school success. I loved the look in Grammee’s eyes when I told her how much I loved the meal she made. I loved how it felt to make others happy. So when I became a vegetarian and no longer could eat my Grammee’s food, I felt stress as dinner was served. And when I talked with my Grandpa about teaching Yoga and growing organic vegetables, work that is currently richer in experiences than money, I felt the conversation turn sour. When I realized that many of my values had grown different from those of my family, I thought I’d be thrown from the boat completely. For years I tried to quiet my own needs and thoughts, desperately wanting to blend in. Then one day, a very wise woman told me boats are made to rock. By trying to blend in and keep things as they are in my family, I was not only creating more turmoil within myself but I wasn’t allowing others the chance to know me, the real me. And with that, my perspective shifted.
So every Friday night we gather for dinner – grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The 20 of us fill the house with conversation and laughter. We hardly notice the sun has set as we spend hours in each other’s company. Grammee fills the table with her love, Papa smiles from the head of the table. During these Friday nights I learn I cannot control someone else’s happiness. During these Friday nights I learn to set boundaries and choose what I want to participate in. During these Friday nights I learned my experience is a reflection of my own perspective.
I often feel like a rare bird amidst my family, but I remember it’s our differences that make this life journey interesting. For more than 20 years, we have gathered together at our Friday night table and I embrace the loving qualities that keep us coming back week after week.