One of the benefits of returning to traditions is that your time outside makes it easier to understand why certain practices were done and why. One simple example is the concept of having meals together. Now one might wonder, (and I did when I was young), why it was necessary? We do need to eat but we don’t necessarily need to do it together and even if we’re together, does the television really need to be switched off while we eat? That was what I thought in early adolescence and regrettably, this is what ended up happening in our family. We eventually began eating apart and if we ate together at all, it was in front of the television or on special occasions like Christmas. I can’t remember when exactly this happened or whether it was gradual or sudden. It just did.
I didn’t eat with my family regularly again until I had a family of my own and this largely happened thanks to the influence of my wife. Her family, unlike mine, never really stopped eating together though they often did it in front of a television. So now it is has become quite normal for me to eat at a table, with my family and without the many surrounding distractions. I must admit that I didn’t like coming back to this and I didn’t come back easily. I still have trouble sitting down and being part of this as it was something I’d become quite used to not doing. But at the very least, I’ve come to see it’s importance.
I don’t know how many times I’ve quoted G.K. Chesterton on this blog but let me quote him again because it fits so well with what follows.
“The common defence of the family is that, amid the stress and fickleness of life, it is peaceful, pleasant, and at one. But there is another defence of the family which is possible, and to me evident; this defence is that the family is not peaceful and not pleasant and not at one.”
John C. Wright has the entire essay posted on his blog if you want to read further and I recommend you do. The essay is part of the book Heretics which I also strongly recommend.
It is not uncommon to hear teenagers whining about how embarrassing their parents, siblings or indeed entire family is to them. It is now not so uncommon to hear this from grown men and women too. What started in my family with us wanting to eat separately or less formally, gradually became not wanting to be together at all. Even the mandated togetherness of the Christmas tradition came to be broken as my brothers and many of my friends wanted to be somewhere else as soon as was possible even on that one day of the year when almost everyone does.
As Chesterton suggests, the reason to be together is not because the family is necessarily pleasant but because it isn’t. The act of sitting together with your family with only each other to focus on is an act of patience and selflessness. It is everyone putting others before themselves and that’s why it’s so important. Now there are of course plenty of families that get along just fine and genuinely enjoy one another’s company. There are also many individuals who enjoy any company they can have. But it is precisely for people who aren’t this way (people like me), that something so simple as sitting down together for a meal is fundamental.
Having a biological relationship does not mean you will share the same interests, indeed in my case it certainly doesn’t. As one of five children I can attest that my siblings and I have few common interests between us. There are plenty of similar character traits and physical features and even a somewhat similar mindset but we are certainly different people. The same goes for my own children who have thus far shown very little interest in things that excite their father. My wife, who I had the opportunity to choose to live with, is also very different to me in more ways than I can count.
Yet, if an odd group of people are able to sit down together for no other reason than they share a common ancestry and at least for one moment a day break bread in peace, then that is something special. Thinking about it in a wider context, if we can’t even get along with those we have a familial duty to, how can any society hope to function? If we’re forever in search of company that we enjoy, will we ever be satisfied? I don’t think so.
A healthy society is one made up of smaller healthy societies known as families. The more families can get along and maintain trust, the more society as a whole can. Fragmented families will eventually fragment society. That’s why, despite my preference for solitude, I make the effort to sit down with my family and eat together. I wish this was something I never had to learn.