Nearly a year ago I had this sentence pop into my head while I was meditating: There are four chairs at the table.
I found it very pleasing and walked around with the idea that it would become a book that I would co-author with three other women, maybe a collection of essays that could represent a diverse array of experience, humor and wisdom on the subject of life. There are four chairs at the table has yet to become a NY Times Bestseller, in fact this Thanksgiving toast is that most I've done with the idea.
But I do do a lot of sitting around the table. We just bought a new one for our home, fulfilling my wish for a big, long table with many chairs and room. A table feels like an invitation to me. A horizontal canvas. I love setting the table and eating at the table. When people gather at my table, I get a rush of satisfaction, akin to worthiness. My identity feels sharpened somehow; I feel useful and present and authoritative like a captain in her ship.
This particular November, the four chambers of my heart, feel table-less, separate; the way people sit alone at a weekday movie matinee or on a bus journey, crossed arms with seat-gaps left between them. The complete sentence, "There are four chairs at the table", and what it means in my mind, a set, a union, a circle feels improbable this year, if not impossible. I'm mad at the world. It scares me. We aren't doing well. Taking care of each other has never felt so doubtful or so radical as it does in this moment.
If there are four chairs at the table, in one chair sits my loneliness and across the table sits my joy and in the third chair is my hope and in the fourth chair my sorrow. They are all invited to dinner, like Rumi's Guest House, there is room for the heart's evolutionary appetite. This gathering is volatile and raw and if it weren't for the table holding these four equally full chairs together, my quartered self would secede and I'd be in civil war. But there is a table, there's a piece of earth we all have in common, there is a state, there are coordinates and serving dishes, there's a salad fork and a desert plate and a "please pass the salt" and there's hunger to feed and there is can-shaped cranberry sauce, there's a dog under the table whining for a taste and a candle lit at the center where we can catch glimpses of our flickering happiness. What do I bring to the table? My lonely, joyful, sorrowful, hopeful heart. Here, gathered in beauty and brokenness, the table is set.