Friday, November 15, 2013

Gathering for Thanksgiving

This is Chris and my brother, Spencer, on Thanksgiving 2011 - the day Chris met my family for the first time. 

Back when I thought I was a philosophy major, I took a class called Philosophy of Food. One of my favorite discussions was on Albert Borgmann’s “focal practice” theory. To give an oversimplified summary, focal practices are things like reading, playing instruments, exploring nature, gardening, and – here is the topical one – the family feast.

I spent this week re-reading my favorite sections of Borgmann’s books, and his language on eating together is some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve ever read. He talks about the gathering power of the family feast. Grandmother, father, sister, child – all come together at a particular moment to invest in the family. We gather ingredients, memories, culinary and social skills, and then we literally and symbolically nourish each other. Obviously it is a huge investment of time and resources, but once the investment is made, there are extraordinary payoffs.

In the warmth of these focal celebrations we are grounded to our past and surrounded by the people we hope to be with us in the future. Our lives become oriented, and an almost reverential sentiment arises. Borgmann says, “When reality and community conspire in this way, divinity descends.” It’s graceful and genuine and, sure, it seems like a lofty goal for a regular Thursday night, but there’s one Thursday every year where this glamorized form of dining really shines: Thanksgiving.

And so Thanksgiving dinner is what I’m thankful for this year. I'm thankful for the countless scoops of mashed potatoes, the steamed up kitchen windows, the orange shag carpet, and my Grandpa's tearful prayers over the food and his posterity. I'm thankful for those cherished Thursday nights that have long-since faded to the place where beautiful memories go to live.


p.s. This is the first Thanksgiving dinner (ever) that I won't be eating at my Grandma's house. So. Indulge a little cheese, please.


  1. i remember wanting to be in this class with you. sounds great.

    1. I loved talking about our classes/projects at work. I loved hearing about all your psych stuff - I think my favorite was that CS Lewis paper you wrote...

  2. I think about this class nearly every time I eat (and my this class I mean you telling me about it). I really need to get the literature for it.

    1. I really wish I still have my syllabus. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have thrown it away. Anyway I have a bunch of book titles I'll send you.


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