A Longer Table

I have a friend who’s feeling all kinds of left out tonight. She was part of a group of people that fractured because of a personality clash, and half the group took one side, half took the other.

This is rather the story of the world, isn’t it?

My friend was left pretty wounded from this experience. She poured her heart into the group, because that’s her way. She gave her considerable expertise and passion to the group and their goals. But a strong personality edged out sound decision making, and a schism was made, and my friend was left on the margins.

Her life has moved on since this departure. She’s healed some of the relationships from that time, let others go. Her passion has turned elsewhere, and she’s developed a rich field of her own planting, full of projects and goals of her own. Leaving this group and its designs behind her left room in her life for something else to grow, and it’s been beautiful.

But occasionally, like tonight, she’s reminded of the stragglers, the unhealed fractures from that massive break, and she’s been struck with a pang of hurt and jealousy that took her by surprise. After all these years, she wondered, why does this still hurt? Why does she still feel so hurt at being left out of their ongoing reindeer games?

There’s therapeutic language that helps make sense of this, a way to understand that pain. There are the tools of gratitude for the experience and what it taught and for the relationships that survived, and the critical education in letting go. These are important reminders for staying healthy and balanced, for not tipping into that dark place where jealousy and loneliness and worthlessness fester and thrive. These are bandages to stop the bleeding, to bind the wounds and prevent infection.

But there’s a chance to reverse the damage too, not just to the individual, but to the group and everyone they touch. There’s a way to foster connection. When my friend was holding my hand through my own nasty marginalization and jealousy, she decried the clannish behavior of those saying “no, YOU aren’t allowed in our special club!” and offered instead a place with her whenever I needed it. I’m not part of her family, or any group that she’s part of, or her social circle or work friends, and yet she made space for me. She showed me a more inclusive way to be, with enough chairs for everyone at the table, so that one person is not left standing in the corner while everyone else laughs and plays and eats together.

long table
The long table at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. It’s how I see my table.

A table so long that everyone is welcome. Tonight, we made an imaginary table with more planks, more legs, more plates, more laughter and biscuits, more hands held in thanks, more scones and farm-fresh eggs, more puppies to snuggle and good wine to share. And that was just what we had to offer, right this moment, just within reach. Think of what we could share if everybody brought something!

If you’re part of a group that accepts you as a member, it’s easy to fall into that coterie behavior, the “We–and ONLY we–belong here” attitude, because it feels safe and secure. But in my experience, closing ranks like that shuts out the light. I am so freaking sick of people being left out and pushed out and told they don’t belong, as if any one of us has the right to tell another that they’re “wrong” or “misfit” or “don’t belong” or “not welcome.”

What would happen if, instead, each of us made space for one another? Or maybe just one more?

Come to my table, then, the Mary Poppins Bag of tables. I can’t promise I’ll always have enough for everybody, but I’ll make a space for you. Bring what you have, and we’ll hold hands and give thanks. We each have it in us to be kind, to be generous, to reach out a hand to someone who’s hurting. Let’s let the light in.



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