I’ve been thinking about sharing meals with people this week, and just how much it means to sit down with someone and enjoy the company of a dining companion while you enjoy your food. It doesn’t even have to be something that you prepare, as these days, finding time, talent, or inspiration to cook seems to come at a cost that we are not always at liberty to pay.

What I do enjoy are those occasions where we can all gather, family and friends, to share a meal around the table. People who we haven’t seen in a while greet us with smiles, hugs, and kisses, and we sit and eat. In a mix of who you are with and what you are eating, there is a measure of comfort to be had.

I come from a huge family- five kids on my dad’s side, nine kids on my mom’s. When we get together, it’s always a mix of inside jokes, knee-buckling sibling humor, and camaraderie. And Andy.

Andy, the second child in the family after my mother, has spent his life between family and a few different assisted living facilities for adults with needs that go beyond the scope of what families are typically able to provide on a daily basis. In my lifetime, he has lived most of his days at Brother James Court, a facility run by Franciscan Monks in Springfield, Illinois, about 2.5 hours south of the family homestead in Princeton. He is fulfilled with activities and spirituality, and when he shares visits with members of the family, it is a reunion and a celebration.

An Easter Celebration

As we get older, we see less and less of the family, but at Independence Days, Thanksgivings and Christmases, he appears, and spends a few days with a choice number of siblings. Picnics are had, we take long drives in the country, and his presence makes us feel calmer. His strong, unconditional love and ear to ear grin are reminders that there remains in this world a bit of purity.

When he has been up visiting my parents in Wisconsin, we’ve gone to movies and for walks down by the lake, but it is in eating with him that I get a true sense of his delicate nature and relationship to his food, and on a larger scale, life.

One day, before catching a showing of Finding Nemo, we stopped at a pizza place across the mall for a meal. To me, the pizza wasn’t that special in itself. I ordered a slice for me, a slice for him, some breadsticks, and a couple of fountain drinks. We each took our trays over to a table. Within his actions, he carried the tray more gingerly and with deliberate purpose. We sat down and I opened the box in which my slice was contained, but a silent hand reached across the table and touched my wrist. I looked up, and Andy looked me right in the eye.

He placed his palms to one another and began to pray, using words that I could only half make out through his trademark muffled, stuffy delivery. There was a “God” in there, a couple of “pleases”, and an “Amen”.

For Pizza.

Now we could eat.

I sat there and thought about it, as we ate our slices. It was so ingrained, his pre-meal prayer, that it just had to be done before we could touch our food. The world would not end, of course, if we didn’t, but without words, and by his actions, he just let me know that it was the right thing to do.

Did it taste better because of it? Maybe. Maybe not. I didn’t really pay attention, but after we ate, I felt fulfilled and content by this meal that we shared.

We put our empty boxes on our trays, and Andy gave another short prayer of thanks, got up, and brought it to the trash.

Within each one of us, even if it isn’t spiritual, we hold a ritual connection to how we address and eat our food. If one man can show compassion for every meal he eats, what shall we do to make sure that every meal put in front of us means something?

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