What do you bring to the table?

Which way will the creek
run when time ends?
Don’t ask me until
this wine bottle is empty.

~ Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

“What did you notice that was beautiful today?” When J asked me this last night, just as we sat down to dinner, I cracked up.


It’s not a funny question, but rather an example of his dear effort to honor a request I made after breakfast.

“Please don’t ask me at dinner what I did today, or how my day went, ask where I found beauty.” I implored him in the morning as I hustled to my office.

“And what do you want me to ask you tonight?” I called over my shoulder.

“You can ask how my day went. I like to remember what I got done.”

Life has always yelled at me,
“Get your work done.” At least
that’s what I think she says.
~ Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

What we focus upon comes to light. My request was part self defense – I always give myself more to do in any given day than I can ever accomplish and then feel bad when I don’t finish. And it was part new strategy; I want to pay more attention to life’s surprises of  grace and grandeur hiding in plain sight rather than concentrating only on how I try to unruffle its challenges.  I’m trying to adjust the outlook I bring to my day and our dinner table.

smooth coral

What do you talk about at dinner?

I’ve begun asking friends without children at home this question.

We don’t talk, we watch TV.
I don’t know, nothing, what we did that day.
What’s coming up on our calendar.
Funny stuff the dog did.

What did I expect? The better question is, what do I want, what does J want?  If gathering around the table is a nightly ritual so important that we set its time, its chef and menu (we trade cooking duty), its location and literally light its candles, then doesn’t it follow that we might also guide its conversational swoops and soars?

When our kids were home we had a standard dinner starting point that inevitably opened doors to conversation that often lasted long past dessert.

What was the best part of your day?
What was the worst?

Trials and triumphs of school and sports, of work and home life and friends trickled out over roasted chicken and broccoli.  If friends joined us, they too got pulled into the daily circle, some shy at first to say, but inevitably relaxed enough to tell about a moment that set this day apart.

I eventually bought Chat Packs, those decks of cards with dozens of conversation starters. We played Brain Quest and Would you rather?  I still sometimes put little stacks of these cards next to the napkins at dinner parties or spread them around the appetizers at family gatherings.

Am I inherently nosy? Afraid of conversational lull? Maybe yes and yes. But I like to think that even more than that, I really like the idea of getting to know the people I share time with. The worst kind of dinner is one where I don’t learn a single new thing about the ones I pause with at the end of the gift of another day.


Last night I learned two truths. Each day delivers beauty; my husband remembers and honors my requests. Maybe those are really one big truth.

Where did you find beauty today?

p.s. For literary grace and grandeur, you could do worse than getting your hands on a copy of Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.
1317_lgTreasure what you find
already in your pocket, friend.
~ Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

The book is the best kind of conversation, where no one voice dominates, in fact no one poet takes individual credit for any of the short stanzas.  From the back cover:

Longtime friends, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser always exchanged poems in their letter writing. After Kooser was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Harrison found that his friend’s poetry became “overwhelmingly vivid,” and they began a correspondence comprised entirely of brief poems.

…When asked about attributions for the individual poems, one of them replied, “Everyone gets tired of this continuing cult of the personality…This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials.”

Maybe I’ll bring it to the dinner table tonight.

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