These Are Great Days

Pinned to the bulletin board on the wall above my desk is a birthday card a good friend gave me a couple of years ago. On the front, there's a drawing of a tire swing and the words, "Those were the days . . . and so are these." Gosh, I love it. It captures so much of what I feel about this stage of life -- and so much of what our family is trying to do with Reclaiming Sunday Supper.

Already, just a few years since receiving that card, I'm looking back fondly on earlier years with the girls: their cheeks, so round and rosy; their voices, so high-pitched; their world, almost entirely of my making (their need for me, basically all-consuming . . . let's not forget that part, shall we?). But I'm noticing that these are the days, too -- right now. That old "witching hour" hell of 4:00-5:00 p.m. whining and melt-downs and literally counting the moments until Jason walked in the door has been replaced by a new, sweet, after-school time of day, when the girls are pretty self-motivated to sit down with their homework at the dining room table, one using her Google docs to create a slideshow on Ecuador, maybe, while the other one practices her piano. They help set the table for dinner. They ask me about my day, or they ask how many centuries it's been, or they talk about which friend scored which part in the school play. 

When it comes to Sunday suppers, I'm definitely not trying to white-wash the past and get all nostalgic for the good-old, simpler days, when every family sat down for a big meal on Sunday after church, come hell or high water. That was a great tradition, to be sure, and we're trying to make it work for us today, but I don't imagine that things were perfect during the sabbaths of the 1950s any more than they are perfect around our dining room table in 2014. Has this experiment changed our family in the last few months? I think it has: we're practicing the values of hospitality and generosity, we're working rest and connection into our Sundays, and we're strengthening relationships with our family and friends while reaching out to new people. But it's a far cry from the strict church/dinner/nap/church my parents and grandparents grew up with, and that's OK. Last week Sunday it was literally take-out pizza, veggies, some ugly homemade gingerbread cookies, and screw-top wine with the neighbors. We're making it our own.

In her book The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers (raising a tween or teen right now? I recommend), Wendy Mogel writes:

There was a time when a young person rose when an adult entered the room, would not consider calling adults by their first names, and automatically came to the door to pick up a date. I am not nostalgic for this time. Socially acceptable behavior also included discrimination of every sort, sweeping family problems under the rug, and establishing household order through intimidation and submissive deference to Dad the All-Knowing Patriarch.

Things in 2014 seem messier, more complicated. Parenting feels high-pressure, Pinterest is lurking in the background trying to make us all feel inadequate, schedules are tight and the news from the outside world seems at times insurmountably awful. It's definitely NOT the 1950s anymore, is what I'm saying, and I don't especially think it should be. Because here's the freedom we have today: We get to make up our own rules as we go. We get to ask the big, tough questions. We all have a bit more freedom to make our life look the way we want it to. We get to start our own traditions, sabbath and otherwise. We get to, as my dear, smart, strong yoga instructor reminded me this morning, both believe there is good in the world and BE the good in the world. 

Next week Sunday will be the darkest day of the year. Every year I note the Winter Solstice with a tiny bit of relief, reminding myself that the days only get longer, brighter, warmer from here (though it often doesn't seem so in February -- or, here in Michigan, even necessarily in April). And last Sunday at church, the sermon was partly about darkness. During Advent, those themes of darkness and light, with the promise of the star above the manger, are the ones that stick with me the most.

Next week Sunday, we'll be here, around our table with some friends, believing that taking the time to share a meal is a little bit of light in the darkness. When things seem dark, hard, overwhelmingly impossible (cancer, Ferguson, poverty, violence, raising teenagers), I try to remind myself that these are great days. Not because the impossible things don't exist, but in spite of them and right alongside them. And my favorite reminder for this is the quote in the hallway of our house.

Churchill, for some context, didn't say this when the war was over and The Allies had prevailed. No; he said it in 1941, deep in the awfulness of World War II, just as the enormity of the situation was becoming obvious. I look at that every time I come in our house, and I think, well, if Churchill declared it under those circumstances, then it must be true today.