Persons, places and things: Building relationships over dishes and coffee

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By Barb Arland-Fye

My sister-in-law Carleen checked the oven where turkey, potato and green bean dishes basked in their glory, awaiting their place on the dining room table on Thanksgiving Day. At the kitchen sink, my mom washed dishes while I dried them in order to minimize the post-feast workload.

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The distance between their homes in the Twin Cities and mine in the Quad Cities limits get-togethers to holidays or other special occasions, so I treasure the small details that help us nurture our relationship such as doing the dishes.

Working together for a common goal, the celebration of a meal with family members is our prescription for building relationships even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. I learn about and appreciate more what’s happening in my relatives’ lives in these mundane but intimate moments.

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We talked about milestone birthdays coming up next year for my dad and my husband, Steve, and brainstormed ideas for the celebrations. We talked about careers, the challenges of dating and job hunting (for our children) in these COVID-interrupted years.

When we sat down for dinner, my heart soared to hear our voices in unison praying grace before the meal and I shared my experience with our family members. They agreed it was an uplifting moment. Later, I had an unexpected opportunity to tell my mom how much I love her. That moment will remain an indelible memory.

Like many families, we avoid polarizing talk but if our discussion veers in that direction, we find our way back by searching for common ground. We are family, first. One of my favorite books is Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), which he wrote following two Synods on the Family. It “represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gift of marriage and the family, and to persevere in love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience” (p. 2).

The Holy Father also said that the “the love between members of the same family — between parents and children, brothers and sisters and relatives … is given life and sustenance by an unceasing inner dynamism leading the family to ever deeper and more intense communion, which is the foundation and soul of the community of marriage and the family.”

Some family members couldn’t join us for Thanksgiving because of geographical distance, work and/or other commitments that prevented them from traveling to be with us. I felt a pang of longing but also thought about families whose loved ones have been separated by death or illness. That reality underscored my appreciation for the loved ones with whom I did celebrate.

The next day, Steve, our son Colin and I had another opportunity to celebrate the joy of love by bonding with family — Steve’s siblings and all but one sibling’s spouse — at a supermarket coffee shop. We had not seen these relatives since pre-COVID days. Seated at the round table, we exchanged the stories of our lives and made a commitment to celebrate Steve’s milestone birthday in Iowa!

I drink coffee infrequently and mistakenly ordered a medium-size cup of black coffee, which I finished off as we talked. The subsequent headache and jittery feeling eventually faded away but the warmth I experienced building on my relationship with extended family continues.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)


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