Around the table: All broken, all fed
Living well. What was it like at first? I ask a close friend to go back in time, to when she was asked to help out and join the community. She describes it being small, when there was just a long table and a few side tables: together, it seemed like a cross. Jars of flowers on the table underlined a sense of welcome. She came every Friday. Every Friday was the same: Living Well was a place of big stories, from alcoholism to addiction. But as they were told, there was no place for shame. Instead of shame, there was honesty and acceptance. My friend took her place at the table, where the honesty opposite her and the openness beside her created an openness within herself.
This was more than helping out, washing up after the meal and go home. This was about something so meaningful. It was about a welcome to all - where no one would be judged about what was brought to the table. “Instead of hiding, shocking things could be spoken about. We got to know each really well - and we laughed every week, too. I once talked to someone about how he had climbed a hill. How he had nearly got there, and how one fall shouldn't stop the whole climb.”
From these early days of Living Well, a great respect has come across for the guests and for the way one sustains their lives for what it is. And no, it wasn't about success and result, because going back and forth is part of it: you cannot always control what is coming your way. “But there was no space for judgement and there were no expectations. The setting of honesty helped to open up., it was like a place of openness at every level. We had a meal and broke bread together and whatever came out was acceptable”. For my friend, there were two sides to this experience of openness, as it also involved herself opening up; one could just do the dishes and go, or one could open up by the dynamic around the table and grow as a person: “I discovered things. I realised the skills I got: I was able to listen to people - like years later, at the welcome desk. Whatever they would come up with, I could be ‘in their head’ and be shoulder to shoulder with them. My empathy had become truly personal, instead of professional.”
Did that ever change, that open and non-judgemental atmosphere and welcome? For my friend it is core to what Living Well was and still is, as it transformed herself: “Over the years, Living Well has attracted people by its honesty and openness. That is so meaningful. It is a privilege to walk alongside each other - it is as simple as being there for each other. It is enough and it is what it is all about. Over the years I became proud at my general life. The way they handled the challenge, I learned by it and I learned that I didn't have to be ashamed.”
My friend has known the heart of our community. Instead of sticking to our roles, she has shown to us something deeper and more profound: A wounded healer like herself had been offered more healing by engaging ‘same level’ with those sitting opposite her. Honesty and openness had called for an open heart and an honest reply within herself. Being heard and learning as she went along, her ear was encouraged to listen even better. And she would listen to many, many more. Until I found her listening to me, years later. Right when you come in, at the welcome desk.
Though we currently gather outside and queue up, in the spirit of our Living Well we still break bread together in an open space of listening and acceptance. We all have a place around the table of brokenness, or as many of us remember this Holy Week: we all have a place around that cross-shaped table, where Holy Bread is broken.
All are broken, all carry burdens. Yet all can be fed by honesty here and become healers, as we open up to each other and ourselves. As we offer each other a place around this table of togetherness.
Posted by: Kerst Sikkema Date: 31st March 2021