From time to time, something will cause me to contemplate once again Sue Byrd’s round tables down at Fayetteville Area Operation Inasmuch on Hillsborough Street.
When the breakfast ministry began there in 2009, with volunteers serving plates of scrambled eggs and sausage and hot cups of coffee five mornings a week to the homeless, Byrd, the founding director, decided the organization should purchase round tables rather than rectangular ones.
There is no hierarchy at a round table. No one is left out of the conversation or the fellowship due to being stuck far down at an end corner. There is no head of the table.
Everyone at the table has the chance to feel that their opinions, their praying, their hymn-singing, their very existence, is as important as that of any of the people sitting in front of them. You can leave a spot for someone you are missing and still carry on the conversation without missing a beat.
I suppose I’ve always preferred round tables for meals. But I had never considered the reason as clearly as I did when Sue Byrd set forth her explanation all those years ago.
Over the years, I’ve realized that when facing the task of making important decisions, embarking on serious discussions, or, yes, simply sitting down to the pleasant task of sharing a meal, most of life seems to work out best at a round table.
There have been plenty of happy occasions made that much more joyful by having taken place at round tables. Birthday celebrations, wedding toasts, awards ceremonies. Not long ago, I was among a group of friends who chatted amicably with each other over a really enjoyable dinner. I’ll always remember that particular round table, filled to overflowing with both appetizers and good sportsmanship.
On the other hand, more than once, the unique reality of living in a town adjacent to a military base has led to quite a few tears at such a round table. My family, my friends and my neighborhood have experienced the necessity of saying helpless good-byes to sweet friends as new duty stations or retirements took them off to places such as Fort Leavenworth, Fort Lewis, or even to disparate locations such as Minneapolis and Hawaii.
I suppose that is the price we pay for having the chance to meet such interesting, intelligent and well-traveled people. At least at a round table, you can hold hands, say grace, raise a glass and pray that your paths will cross with each other at another table down the road.
More than anything else, it seems that a round table is a symbol of accommodation to all who would seek to pull up a chair and have an honest, open and conciliatory discussion. There’s always room for one more person. The circle can just get bigger and bigger. As long as we can talk it out, there’s always hope.
These days, it seems we need some round tables more than ever. Of course, they won’t solve our problems just by virtue of their shape. But then again, let the praying and hymn-singing begin, and let’s see what happens.