Building Community by Corinne Woodruff

Posted on October 31, 2019

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It is no secret that my home in Chicago is large. I mean logistically, it has to house 10 fellows as well as 5 full staff people, and have room for guests and visitors. There are many things I love about my home, ranging from the chapel roof to my favorite green floral couch to the two trees in the yard which I can hang my hammock from perfectly. However, there is one space which I have fallen especially in love with, and that is our dining room table.

The table is giant, wooden, and technically made from 3 smaller tables pushed together, surrounded by an ever changing number of blue and brown chairs. It sometimes has a plant on it, or a tablecloth, and at dinner time, it usually has a container of sour cream on it. It sees us at so many stages during week, like Saturday mornings where we sleepily descend down the stairs at our own paces and sip our coffee, simply enjoying the company – and the mornings before work where people are in constant flux, moving in and out, and on our ways.

Community is a tenet of the Amate House program, so we eat dinner together at least 4 times a week. It is never less than an hour and a half affair (besides when we are headed to a free improv show) and our (typically) vegetarian meals are always accompanied by conversations. Those conversations have ranged from our mutual love of cheese, to ethical consumption and consumerism, to deep belly laughs about guessing one another's middle names. We have lamented about the state of our environment, talked about religion and personal philosophies, and have debated whether whaling is a hobby during an intense game of Scattergories.

The table is a cornerstone of our home, and it reminds me of the power of community. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and an incredible witness to community, said that “Love doesn't mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” The table is not extraordinary, but it is beautifully ordinary. We eat at that table, but we also discuss and challenge one another, constantly sharing our thoughts and lives with one another. We ask to pass the cheese or garlic powder between comments about racial justice or our plans for the weekend. We often linger long after dinner has been cleared away, wanting to spend time together before we head upstairs to our own spaces. It is a gathering place, a space where we are able to be brought together and encounter one another, encourage one another, and love one another. I am a firm believer that our dinner table has brought us closer as a community, and it will continue to do so for other Amate House communities to come.

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