Today I am thinking about two things that are not a secret to anyone.
First, I’m thinking about – preparing for, excitedly awaiting, nervously anticipating – the Family Dinner Conference, which will be happening on Thursday in New York City. If you read my posts or follow me on Facebook, you know all about this, of course; I’m thrilled and honored and in all other ways tickled completely pink to be a part of the speaking lineup. Thursday is going to be a big, big day.
Secondly, I’m thinking about Boston.
How these two things converge into a cohesive post comes from the crazy, crazy thought that popped into my head as I sat down last night and tried to focus on organizing the last bit of everything that needed organizing before I’d be completely prepared for the conference. I was distracted, of course, by thinking of all the events still unfolding just an hour or so north of the quiet of my neighborhood and the happy chaos of my little house full of family. And unbidden, the crazy, crazy thought came:
Should we do the conference?
There is, of course, no reason NOT to do the conference. It’s in New York, not Boston; it’s on Thursday, not the day after the bombing; it’s life going on, not halting because sometimes things stop us in our tracks and make us want to not move forward with the day-to-day until we have dealt in some way with our sorrow, our fear, our anxiety, and our desire to respect the tragedy in our midst. But these things have a way of making you question the value of everything else in the world. I remember right after 9/11, when I was just starting a graduate program in theatre arts, we all sat down on the grass of our campus and thought deep thoughts about what in the world we were doing. And at least one classmate stood up, announced his intention to go do something more meaningful than art, and never came back.
So it’s a natural mechanism, I think, to take a quick mental inventory of what the heck you’re doing in the world and whether or not it seems worthy and meaningful in the wake of tragedy. I did that last night, looking not for the “Why not?” of continuing with a Family Dinner Conference presentation in a world gone mad, but for the urgent “Why?” of continuing.
It wasn’t hard to come to the “Why?” when I got right down to it. I looked at my children, I looked at my parents, I looked at our own family dinner table, strewn with the remains of homemade sourdough pizza and smeary fingerprints and crayons. I thought about everything I know about violence and violence prevention. And I thought about the things that can be done to make this old world better, to allay some of the violence, to restrain bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and hurt.
There are many, many things that can be done. Some of them happen at the government level and the policy level. Some happen institutionally. And some happen, smallishly, quietly, humbly, at the personal level. The family level. When I examine this truth, I realize that there is a beautiful secret about the things we can do in our small family ways: They are probably the most important things, the ones that will make the most change of all.
When we raise strong, aware, healthy, competent, compassionate, thinking children, when we honor them with the gift of vibrant families and supportive communities, we raise people who are less prone to violence and more prone to peace. When we meet fully the various and vast needs of our children and ourselves, beginning at a basic level with their needs for good food and safe homes and building up to the highest level of meeting their needs for compassion, love, acceptance, enrichment, nurturing, and moral guidance, we raise them to be people who will seek to meet the needs of others, not diminish them. When we do these things regularly and predictably and with vigor and commitment, we not only strengthen these children who are growing into the adulthoods we envision for them, but we gather our own strength and shore up our own emotional reserves. We need nurturing and guidance no less than they do.
There may be many ways to provide all of this to our children and ourselves, but there are few mechanisms that deliver every one of these outcomes all at once, consistently, in the way that a positive Family Dinner routine does. So no matter how humble it seems, no matter how tired we are, no matter how many times we are confronted by others’ perceptions that the pace of modern life has all but obliterated the place of a quaintly old-fashioned notion like sharing a meal around the table each night…I know, and I hope that you all know, how much it actually does matter. It matters a great deal. And it makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our children, who have the power to make change happen in our tired, angry world.