Ah, the end of the year: A time of celebration and champagne toasts, reflection and resolution-making, and Top 10 digests.
This was the year we opened our doors, and turned what had been a spark among a small collection of friends and friends-of-friends into a full-on blaze. So we figured our year wouldn’t be complete without a list of our own.
Here are a few things we've learned along the way:
1. Everyone’s an expert & no one’s an expert. When we sat down at our first dinner, we weren’t looking to be fixed or even helped: We craved connection and community and good food and good company. We’ve learned since that hosting doesn’t require a clinical degree, or a professional coaching certificate. We learned that the single most important factor in hosting a Dinner Party is the ability to hold space: To listen, to ask open and honest questions, to model #realtalk, and to steer clear of advice-giving.
2. It’s all about the art of imperfection. We’ve learned that you’re actually right on time if you’re running a little late - guests feel more included if they help put the finishing touches on the meal or table setting. (And we’re not just saying that to assuage guilt, we swear.) We’ve learned that no meal is complete without something sweet, and people equally enjoy a baked masterpiece or a few pints of Ben & Jerry’s served with a pile of spoons. And we’ve been shown that family recipes are great conversation starters - even if the old recipe card is long gone and you’re using the closest thing to it from the Internet.
But owning your imperfection goes deeper than that: The best hosts don’t pretend to have answers, or to have achieved some mythic state of zenned out wisdom. Successful hosting requires a willingness to go first: To lead with your own vulnerability, to speak honestly, to name the mess rather than run away from it.
3. Moving forward is not the same as moving on. Early on, we began to notice something interesting: Those around our tables who’d never publicly acknowledged their experiences, or found a way to remember or celebrate the person they’d lost, began to take inspiration from those who had. We grew inspired by Dinner Partiers who were running marathons, or interviewing their parent’s friends, or completing service projects in their loved one’s memory.
The more we try to bury something, or shove it under the rug, or move on, the more space it takes up in our lives. It turns out there’s science behind personal rituals, and their relationship to grief: They’re part of how we embrace a new normal, without letting go the people and experiences that have shaped who we are.
4. In a culture that’s largely void of rituals, food remains the great exception. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, we are each bound by our relationship to food: whether it’s over sit-down dinner parties, or backyard barbecues, food offers a way to celebrate with friends and family, new and old. It gives us a chance to share where we’ve come from and to reflect on where we’re going. It provides a way to give and receive care.
5. The journey is yours alone, but you are not alone in journeying. We’ve come to appreciate that everyone has a story, whether they’ve lived through loss firsthand, or watched someone who has. We’ve had people start dinner tables around divorce, miscarriage, and an array of topics and shared experiences we typically keep under lock and key. The stories that we scrupulously avoid are precisely the ones that bind us together, and are precisely the ones we should be talking about.
6. Contrary to popular belief, people actually really want to talk about death and dying and life after. We’re seeing once-tabooed topics open up on an unprecedented scale, and 2014 was a total doozy in that department. This year saw conversations open up about street harassment and sexual assault, about race and racism, about gender and gender identity, and yes, death and dying and grief. Amidst the Kardashians, cat videos, and empty news reports, we’re finding that people are really hungry to talk about deeper questions about why we’re here, and to share the parts of themselves they otherwise keep hidden.
7. Family is something we can choose to make. It’s often easy to dwell on what we don’t have, or what we never had to begin with—particularly around the holidays. But as OnBeing contributor Courtney Martin writes, “It is our families that shape us from the very beginning, but it is our friends that truly define us down the road. They are the ones we get to invite into our lives.” Ours is a transitory age: A time in which it’s totally normal to live hundreds of miles from the worlds in which we grew up. Now more than ever, we need people we can call when we need to flash the bat signal: People who get it, who can see us through our worst days, and celebrate our best.