The familiar word companion has had special meeting for me especially during the latter part of the Covid epidemic. Especially as an extrovert, I truly, and perhaps profoundly, missed just hanging out with folks, my companions. The word is derived from the Latin com/with and panis/bread. So one interpretation of the word suggests a companion is someone with whom you share a meal, or most elementally, share bread. As much as I have appreciated the “companionship" afforded us via Zoom and Face Time, it doesn’t really provide for much satisfaction when we try to eat and Zoom at the same time. In fact, it is at best awkward, or simply rude, at least in my own version of “Miss Manners.”
I believe most of us are somehow hardwired to prefer an in-person companion when we eat. It’s hard to describe the special spiritual bond we experience when we share food together. Maybe it’s the fact that we somehow, at least implicitly, acknowledge the sanctity and miracle by which the earth provides us food; perhaps we appreciate the love and labor that has gone into its tending, harvest and meal preparation; and maybe its just the pleasure of the sights, smells and tastes of the food itself. All these likely enhance an appreciation of the friendship and intimacy of sharing our most common, lifetime, communal experience of eating together. And indeed it is a worthy and humbling practice to provide a prayerful moment of grace and gratitude before our meals for the essential life force food provides and for the fellowship we may be sharing.
I attended a small, communal brunch this morning for the first time in a long while with a dozen of my Quaker friends . We sat outside at a local breakfast cafe all bundled up. Our masks were off so we were able to see each others’ smiles we hadn’t seen for months. (Our Quaker meeting has been hybrid with in person meetings with masks only.) And there was such joy in our unlikely reunion! The occasion reminded me of my pre-Covid years on Whidbey Island and the number of potluck meals we attended, often more than one a week. And especially, as an extrovert, I missed all those opportunities for re-connection, personal news, and neighborly advice - in short, the companionship those times provided.
Covid, of course, downright prevented gatherings and companionship for the first several months when were not only discouraged from visiting each other, but there was an atmosphere of even avoiding each other as a potential Covid threat. Eventually we tentatively ventured out with our masks, but easy, extended in-person conversations and meetings were rare. Now we are still in a state of wary tentativeness, as we welcome the opening, hence my maskless brunch with friends this morning as we began to trust our safety more.
I close by acknowledging that I will never again take our potluck culture and morning coffee klatches for granted. I celebrate the ongoing renewal of some forms of in-person gatherings and the joy of sharing our bread and precious time of fellowship together as companions on life’s winding journey.
Peace...and bon appetit!