If I was looking for a card for an 18-year-old high school graduate, I’d still have my usual inner turmoil, but it would be a little different story. In this case, our graduating friend is in his 40s, getting his master’s degree after a two-year program at a university in the U.S. that is 7,000 miles away from his wife and children and community in Africa. English is his third language — he only heard it spoken for the first time 10 years ago. He comes from an economically poor community that has experienced a great deal of trauma, and he will be returning there soon.
I’m dumbfounded. My preliterate preschooler is turning into a little journalist, and I have no idea why. When she sees me with scraps of paper, it is more often to make a grocery list than anything else, which she’s at least mildly aware of since I always start my list by asking, “Lily, what should we get from the grocery store?” To which she replies something like, “Cereal, strawberries, and chocolate.” I’d like to think that it’s the writer in me that has somehow projected the importance of literacy to my child and she’s absorbing my love of the written word, but I don’t think that’s it.
“We do not have to live as if we are alone.” One would not be hard pressed to interpret a large percentage of Bruce Springsteen’s extensive catalogue of songs over the last thirty-something years as attempts to communicate the same message. The role of an artist in our world today surely includes, among other things, the task of expanding our moral imagination . . .
Now, after so many years in Nashville, my journals and photograph albums are full of the stories of these gatherings. I’ve come to see them as part of the significant work of my life. I have no guarantee they will ultimately have the effect I want them to. But what I suspect, and what I hope, is that the scents, flavors, often-used recipes, family chitchat, friends catching up, and the familiar stamp of the way things are done will seep in, helping to create a family identity and leave a heritage of belonging.
The seating arrangement will be tricky, because some of these people are shy and will not be comfortable talking to strangers. They might feel uncertain about proper table manners or what to wear. They probably don’t get asked out much. But none of that matters. At this fantasy dinner party, every one of them will arrive with any fear in their hearts replaced with hope.