Folks come to the round, hard, iron seats at the fold-up cafeteria tables at the House of Charity. Come, sit, talk. I’m in their zone for a while, then they vanish – to where? We’ve exchanged names–some names change each week, as people aren’t always wanting to use their real names. But many use real names; I remember and call them by name. This real name gives them dignity. We’ve done some art, shared ideas, thoughts, even personal dreams and frustrations. We’ve reached across this table with hearts and hands, a bit of dignity given. Yes, given, gifted–but who has really been gifted? Come, sit at the table. God, you seem to beckon me weekly to this hallowed ground, space, embalmed in confusion, pain, rejection, but also torn, mending hearts that reach out to one another, forming community. I am nourished and feel blessed on entering, and spend time in reflecting on “what has happened?”
Laughter, chit-chat, plastic “plarn” balls unroll as women sit with me at another table at the Women’s Transition Safe Haven. Hooks poke in and out of crocheted holes as we strive to make tote bags made from recycled plastic bags. Topics surface from “issues” people have, favorite food and movies, childhood memories and yes, a contagious giggle tickles the air – from a woman as she works on two tote bags.
“Tell me about your weekend, how are your cats? Let’s check your homework.” Another woman sits at the table at Barton School sharing her thoughts, putting them into our difficult English language, which is not her first language. We have been traveling this journey for almost three years and she often says “I can’t believe I can speak and write like I am now able!” I have stepped into her world, have heard her story, of her parents being forced out of Korea by Russia many years ago to live in Kazakhstan, then Uzbekistan, then moved to the Ukraine. She herself was educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, married, then moved to Siberia for a better livelihood, where her two children were born, and 22 years ago, arrived in the United States. What a gift to be able to spend time at the table with her.
Beautiful tables are set, the space is warmly decorated. One would think it was the Davenport Hotel, but no, it’s the Women and Children Free Restaurant. Women and children have been welcomed, treated with dignity, found companionship, and have been healthily nourished for over 30 years in this program. Names and faces are familiar each Friday as I don an apron and a name tag and spend precious presence time, either as a waitress or a busser among these women and children. It’s only a limited time of three hours each week, but it’s all a gift.
Come to the feast of Heaven and Earth; Come to the table of plenty. God does provide for all that we need, here at the table. This, to me, is Eucharist in the fullest, most human experience! I feel so very nourished and blessed!