After dinner together, when all the dishes have been aligned in the dishwasher and the garbage taken out, my extended family gathers around the salad bowl. Usually it’s my mom, sister and I, and we talk as we reach in and grab a soggy leaf of lettuce or softened cucumber slice to savor the flavors that have melded together.
We’ve done this since I was little. The other night, we did it over the remaining birthday cake, running plastic spoons along the edge of frosting to slip a luscious lick into our mouths. And always, we are talking while we do it, in quiet & relaxed tones the way people who have long been comfortable with one another do.
In a May Vogue magazine article about fox-hunting (I abhor the idea of chasing after animals, it’s the words I want to focus on for a minute, please), the writer explains, “hunting is less about the pursuit of a fox. I was much more focused on the ride itself. The most striking thing about foxhunting is the sense of community and tradition. It seems to unite everyone.”
That seems the very definition of tradition: something we do again and again that brings us home, to the people who comfort us and accept us and love us regardless. Many a parenting magazine advises “start your own family tradition” but it’s not from the act of creating something deliberate that a tradition is born. It’s from the act of not trying, from just being together, from finding yourselves gathered together over some indescribable focus.
And the power of a tradition is one of unity. Anything that bridges the divide unites. In the aforementioned article, the poor fox is run ragged for the sake of the writer uniting with others. Seems heartless and cruel, yes, the salad bowl a much more benign attempt at unification.
It’s the principle of the matter, the heart at the center of intention.
The other night, my children were discussing who was more evil, the Greeks, the Romans or the Nazis. My daughter suggested that the Nazis were cruelest because “they had no love in their hearts.”
We sat around the table. The children migrated close, leaning in for a hug, my arms slung around everyone simultaneously. My little one eased up onto my lap, his soft hair tickling my nose.
It wasn’t the subject matter (God, no!) that bound us. It was the gathering. The desire to be close, to find some common ground, to unite over ideas and, truly, the love in our hearts.