The season of the bigger room

Not my dining room. jarr1520/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Every October since my eldest was born, we have busted out the leaf for our dining room table and left it there through early January. These three months span two family birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and we have found it much easier—and more welcoming—to leave the extended table intact for the duration. If I were able to execute a time lapse of the dining room in this period, in fact, you'd see the table at the center, unmoving, while chairs, linens, dishes, decorations, food, and guests swirl around it. It is a hectic season, but a heart-filling one, and the table leaf anchors us within it.

So present was the table leaf that I'd been mulling a reflection about it for a couple months, thinking I'd use it as a metaphor for hospitality or open-mindedness or some such facet of invitation. I even had my title: "The season of the open table." But then we removed the leaf, and my husband casually remarked, "The dining room seems so big now," and my whole focus changed.

His observation was spot-on; even though the table was a mere 12 inches shorter, the dining room indeed felt wider, more airy. I had been so focused on the table and all that it required—planning, preparing, hosting, feeding—that I'd lost sight of its surroundings. Now, re-attuned to the whole environment, I felt calmer in the face of spaciousness. I looked around at the floor, the windows, the chairs, and I had no desire to obscure them.

This was a different flavor of openness than what I'd originally contemplated. This flavor stemmed from removing rather than adding, distilling rather than augmenting. While I had first seen our seasonal setup as one of invitation, I am now considering how creating more space embodies generous exclusion, an idea put forth by facilitator Priya Parker in her wonderful book The Art of Gathering. Though her concept refers to the humans you do or don't invite to a gathering, I think it applies to personal choices as well. To paraphrase her and iterate on the idea:

  • What elements of my life not only fit but also help fulfill my intended purpose?
  • What elements threaten my purpose?
  • What elements, despite being irrelevant to my purpose, do I feel obliged to include?

In Parker's words: "Excluding well and purposefully is reframing who and what you are being generous to." Paradoxically, the open space draws me toward concision. It's helping me articulate that I'd like to be more generous to myself, to my precious and finite resources of time, attention, and energy. This is the openness I want to hold onto for a little bit longer—a capacious opportunity to realign my commitments and focus with purpose-driven intention.

Now my question is: What does it mean to enter a season of a bigger room? What is possible with more space, more light, more freedom of movement? When we shrink something, what else expands? I will ponder this while I rest in the quiet chill of January, wondering where my decisions and actions will take me in the months ahead, imagining what my table, room, and season of life might look like this time next year.


Prayer #385: Vessel

We humans have created many containers for our existence—walls, time zones, calendars, geopolitical borders, Tupperware—but only two were set for us: our bodies and our lifespans.

What might we do within these containers, within their squishy edges and indeterminate lengths? What purpose animates us, what choice fulfills us? How are we moving in them, with them, and through them?

Calendars will flip, borders will shift, and I will surely lose the lids to the Tupperware, but this I know for sure: My soul will never be contained, only freed.