Tuesday, November 23, 2010
ROOM AT THE TABLE
Have you ever noticed that dining room tables seat six, eight, or twelve-not seven, nine, or thirteen? I've been single all my life, usually not thinking much of it. But on holidays even the place-settings conspire against me, rendering a silent rebuke against my single status.
You can endure holiday dinners two ways if you're single: 1) Bring someone you don't particularly care for; 2) Hear the awful words "pull up an extra seat," a euphemism for either a collapsible chair or one that is too high or too low for the table. Either strategy leaves you uncomfortable.
At Thanksgiving two years ago, while my calves cramped from straddling the leg of my brother's dining room table, Aunt Nell took the opportunity to ask for details about my love life, which was seriously lacking at the time. The event was excruciating.
Though I enjoy singlehood in the main, there have been times when I've worked myself into a mad frenzy looking for someone to fill a void I thought I couldn't satisfy on my own. Someone, anyone with a pulse would do. Over the years, I dated quite a few guys I liked-I was even engaged once but "till death do we part" seemed a very long time. I always ended up alone again.
So holidays, especially with the Aunt Nells of the family, can weaken my confidence, leaving me a little bereft. One day, noting my frustration surrounding the holidays, a friend of mine suggested we try something different on the next such occasion.
"How `bout you and I go down to a homeless shelter and help out? Then maybe we'll be grateful for what we have," she proposed. I had a thousand reasons why this wasn't a good idea, but my friend persisted. The next Christmas I found myself in an old downtown warehouse, doling out food. Never in my life had I seen so many turkeys and rows of pumpkin pies. Decorations donated by a nearby grocery store created a festive atmosphere that uplifted even my reluctant spirit. When everyone was fed, I took a tray and filled a plate with the bountiful harvest. After a few bites, I knew what everyone was carrying on about; the food was really good.
My dinner companions were easy company. Nobody asked me why I didn't have a date or when I was going to settle down. People just seemed grateful for a place to sit and enjoy a special dinner. To my surprise, I found I had much in common with my fellow diners. They were people just like me.
My experience that Christmas brought me back to the shelter the following year. I enjoyed helping others so much that I began seeking more opportunities to serve. I started volunteering for the Literacy Foundation once a week. I figured I could sit in front of the TV, or I could use those evening hours to help others learn to read.
Caring for others has abundantly filled the void in my life that I had sometimes interpreted as a missing mate. When I stopped trying to so hard to fit in, I realized I was single for a reason and found my own special purpose.
There is room at the table for a party of one. And sometimes "just one" is the perfect fit.