Watching the sunrise through the window, I remain in the same spot I first sat down in eighteen hours prior. The diner had cleared out except for my best friend and me in a booth, and the people working the early shift. The sound of the coffee brewing and our stomachs grumbling from a sugar overload echoed throughout the room. I gather the cards on the table as I shuffle the deck for our next game, “fourteen—zero, me.”
When I tell people I spent twenty-four hours in a diner with my best friend, their first question is “why?”. This is usually followed up with “weren’t your bored?”. The answer is no, and those twenty-four hours were some of my favorite from freshman year. There were only two days left before my friend and I would return home for the summer, and we were excited for one last adventure. We stayed up all night playing cards, making our ultimate bucket lists, and consuming profuse amounts of milkshakes and coffee.
A sit-down meal like the one we shared together is such a lost concept in today’s American society. What happened to the ubiquitous family dinners that are so frequently mentioned by my Grandparents? Nowadays, many meals are spent in the car or next to a computer. In the chaos of everyday life, it is so easy to replace a meal with an extra hour of work. However, sharing a meal with friends is a form of social engagement that fosters community involvement.
Growing up I was always told, “don’t talk about politics or religion at the dinner table,” but I never understood why this was. Is it because a meal should provide peaceful pleasantries connecting people through the “breaking [of] bread” rather than draw out conflicting disagreements between idealistically different individuals? Or conversely to my parents’ beliefs, should the dinner table be used as an outlet for people to voice their opinions on controversial issues, or learn about issues they lacked prior knowledge to I would like to think that my passionate debates screaming at my crazy uncle at the dinner table meant I was destined for Capitol Hill; I believe that the value of the dinner table resides in the rare opportunity for people to sit, stay, and converse about difficult topics such as new legislation and political actors. If lessons of respectful, and sometime uncomfortable, conversations were installed at a young age, then I would be better equipped to hold these disputable discussions at age 19.
Now, more than ever before, we live in an era where people are unable to talk to each other, or even look each other in the eye solely based on political ideologies. Divided by who we voted for in the general election, people have unfriended each other on Facebook, and have cut people out of their lives based on the box they checked on November 8th, 2016. Social media provided people with the platform to “delete” those out of their lives who asserted different opinions, and yet people were surprised by the results of the election because all of their “friends” had supported the same candidate. Whether you are happy or upset with how the election resulted, it is important to note that it involved two of the most polarizing, and possibly disliked, candidates in American history; it can be argued that the gaping divide between candidates could have been avoided if more dialogue occurred between people who vote differently throughout the previous administrations. Nowadays, people have forgotten how to communicate, and instead use ideas such as “fake news” to ignore the facts that support their opponent’s ideas. The government is at a halt because these polarizing sides are unable to listen to each other and reach back towards the middle to compromise.
Reaching. This is an action that is imitated at the dinner table. If you are reaching for the bread, and someone reaches to help pass it to you. You are reaching towards each other, making eye contact, and it is almost as if you are metaphorically reaching towards middle ground. The simple act is often followed with a “thank you,” an acknowledgement of the intimate connection just made.
Intimacy. Food can indulge cravings, can satisfy hunger, and can even sometimes create a sensual experience. Sharing a meal with someone may be more intimate than a first kiss. Additionally, you can learn a lot about a person from what they eat. Your choice of food and beverage plays into your identity, or at least how you identify at the moment. For instance, Vegetarians do not eat meat. Is this because they believe in sustainability of water through the food they consume? Or is it that they don’t care for the consistency or texture of meat? Those who keep Kosher and do not eat pork nor shellfish follow religious rules pertaining to their diet; these simple details of what a person eats can relay vast information about the beliefs and values of these individuals. The dinner table is a time to share a part of yourself with an intimate community.
The way I see it, the dinner table allows you to better know someone by providing the perfect place to debate the issues that matter to you. Often the people at the table are people you have formed intimate connections with, and have the ability teach you about both sides of an argument as you reach a compromise. Debating controversial issues with someone with a differing opinion can help you understand how they support gay marriage and the right to an abortion, but identify as Republican for “fiscal reasons.” Or understanding why people love their right “to bear arms,” can help those who deeply believe in stricter gun control laws. Polarizing views will not save lives, but finding a compromise can promote policy to protect and support the greatest amount of citizens.
So yes, sitting at the same booth in a diner for twenty-four hours was a lot. However, not only did I learn about myself, I learned even more about my best friend. I discovered that even though we had so much in common, we also had so many differences. He watched TV about photography, a show that would be my last choice on Netflix when trying to stay awake at 4:42 A.M. We have different perspectives on politics and where we see ourselves in ten years, but in that moment we were spending quality time together. In my day at the Peacock Diner, I found what motivates me as a student and as an individual: my desire to ask questions and to be challenged, and to acknowledge there are many sides to every issue, which will require compromise. These 24 hours comprised an experience I will never forget, and will forever be a part of who I am – something to think about the next time you take your coffee and lunch to go.
Haley Myers ’20 studies in the Olin Busines School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.