Some of my favorite memories take place around the family dining room table. It is important to note that I come from a home that had all girls. We were three rambunctious young ladies raised by one amazing little woman. I don’t mean that in a degrading way. My mom is actually little; she’s 5’3. Each person who has ever joined us at this dinner table could tell you the same thing: it gets loud. That’s the thing about raising three strong, opinionated daughters, they have strong opinions each as urgent as the next and all spoken at deafening volumes. There is only one way to survive an environment like that and it is through humor. My mom was never short on her ability to bring a little laughter to the table. We would spend the evening eating and yelling and laughing and giving each other a hard time and if the meal was right, eating again. I love thinking back on these nights when it was just the four of us and the rest of the world seemed to be quieted by our joyous noise. I’ve been thinking about these dinners a lot lately now that I am away and spend so many nights eating dinner alone while huddled around a computer screen, either for work or for company. My house is so quiet now, which I love on most days, but a silent dining room is not something I’ve ever been able to get used to.
Over the last few weeks I have been feeling a great deal of loneliness. Not because I don’t have people around me. I do. Really wonderful people. I am lonely for that connection, that comfort, that cooking. Being apart from that has made me very sad. What weighs on my heart more is the understanding that that dinner table I remember is no longer there. The three strong little girls have grown up to be three strong women with full lives that pull at them in the form of children tugging at your sleeve, a string of emails that can’t be ignored, an apology that has yet to be made. The room is now filled with polite conversation spoken quietly so that the surface doesn’t ripple. These meals are shared a few times a year and often rushed through.
Tonight I got to sit down and have dinner with my family, only I didn’t recognize them right away. I sat at the head of the table and heard the laughter, watched the smiles and felt the love passed around like the bread in a basket. I watched my shy aunt offer kindness to my frazzled sister who was given more than she thought she could handle, even though we all knew she was capable. I giggled inside seeing my tough looking uncle eat his strictly vegetarian meal. I kept an eye on my older sister to see if I was accepted by her yet. I felt the warmth as we all congratulated a family member for her big achievement. I listened intently to my brother as he shared his experience going through the same problem I was facing. The room was dancing with noise, and it was beautiful.
This is not the family I was born into but the one I have gained through my recovery from addiction. We do not share the same background. We didn’t play together as kids. Hell, we don’t even know each others last names. But we know each others secrets. Our hopes. Our sorrows. Our potential for goodness. We know the pain we’ve suffered through and the pain we’ve caused. We see the darkest side of each other and offer our love and acceptance in return. If that isn’t family, I’m afraid the definition is lost on me.
I still miss my old dining room, but as I sit and watch these people tonight I realize I am loved. Accepted. Home.