what happens at the table

This past week, eleven middle-schoolers – five boys, six girls – traveled from Saint Andrew to St. Louis to help out at a day shelter for the homeless, a place called The Bridge. One morning, after the boys and I had peeled bags and bags of sweet potatoes, then helped to make and serve breakfast, we went and sat down with the shelter’s guests, to eat our meal.

The Bridge had laid out chess boards on one table, and our boys usually went right there – other guests of the Bridge would invite them to play, and our boys were able to connect, over those games, with these men who have had such difficult lives. Sometimes the men would share those stories, sometimes they’d share strategy, sometimes they’d barely speak. So I think I probably looked a little proud, and a little sad, on that morning as I sat just to the side and watched them play, these men and our boys.

And then this woman came up to me and introduced herself as Kim, from the Crisis Nursery. I had called them the week before to see if we could volunteer there, so when she came over I figured she was responding to my call, maybe she had work for us to do. She knelt down by my chair, talked me through the services offered by the Crisis Nursery, and I listened, nodded. Then she encouraged me that if I ever need a place for my boys, or just some time to get some help, they were open any hour, day or night – and that’s when I realized she wasn’t speaking to me as the leader of a volunteer group. She didn’t know who I was, of course. She came to me because I came to The Bridge to eat breakfast with these five middle-school boys. And so she came to offer me respite, and care, and the services of the Crisis Nursery, for these boys she assumed were mine, for this family she assumed was homeless.

And that’s when I realized: around a table, everyone is the same. Whatever boundaries I thought existed, to separate volunteers from guests, privileged from homeless – once you all sit down around a table to share a meal, they just don’t. Not in the same way. Because we all gather, in need of nourishment and community, and we are fed, and offered care. And the same thing happens here. We are invited, and given these elements, whoever we are, whatever our story. Whether we come from a place of lack, or a place of abundance, or somewhere in the middle, this feast makes us one.