After my Mom died, Dad often ate dinner alone at the K&W in Chapel Hill. He was a very social guy and it kind of broke my heart thinking about him sitting alone. He probably chatted up the women serving chicken livers and chocolate pudding. But then he would have taken a seat by himself. He wouldn’t have brought a book to read and he certainly didn’t have a cell phone to read his email. It makes me feel sad to think of him at a table for one.
HH and I are on the final stretch of living without each other and – just like running a marathon – we are at the point when it’s especially tough. Living without your person is really hard. Really hard.
I frankly enjoy eating alone in a restaurant because it’s a respite from meetings and wall to wall phone calls. And I’m not having to cook or clean for myself. At least for now, it’s comforting to have someone bring me sweet tea.
I once preached a sermon called Eating Alone for a communion service and I noted that – when we share in The Lord’s Supper together – we are feasting with those who are present and those who are no longer with us – the saints who’ve gone before us. One never celebrates communion alone.
When I eat alone in a restaurant, I don’t feel alone at all. Sometimes people at neighboring tables ask if I’d like to join them, and honestly, I don’t want to. I need quiet time when nobody’s talking. I find comfort in that table for one.
Loneliness is a weird experience. I have been told many times that professional ministry is lonely and that mid-council ministry is especially lonely, but I have not found this to be true. I can’t share what’s going on with our pastors and congregations, except to share it with God who already knows. And that’s all I need.
What I also need is my person. HH moves to this time zone in April, and it’s a bittersweet move. He is leaving a fantastic congregation in a wonderful place. He is entering into the unknown in that we are hoping for a new fantastic congregation in a different wonderful place – but we don’t know where that is yet.
I will continue to eat alone sometimes and that will be fine. But I look forward to setting a table for two at least once a day in just a couple more months.
Here’s to the people sitting at table for one. Maybe they’d like company. Maybe they wouldn’t. But try to notice them. They might be missing their person.
Image is Automat by William Hopper (1927) Des Moines Art Center.