I learned a few things in 2014. This is one of them.
I learned a new word this year.
It was included in one of those lists floating around Facebook of words with no direct translation in English. Like the Japanese word for a buying a new book to add to your existing pile of unread books (tsundoku), and the German word for emotional eating, literally translated ‘grief bacon’ (kummerspeck), and the Southern phrase ‘fixin’ to’. *
And while I have both tsundokud and kummerspecked (and am always fixin’ to), one word shot into my heart with an arrow of recognized truth, and I think it did for you too. And you whispered “Yeah..” And I imagine you smiled.
The word is from Spansh: Sobremesa
“Sobremesa, literally ‘over the table’, has no precise English translation, perhaps because there is no cultural equivalent. Sobremesa is the leisurely time after we have finished eating, but before we get up from the table. Time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying. Certainly not rushing.” (http://www.sobremesa.us/)
Yeah…Sobremesa. Not being Spanish, maybe I don’t know Sobremesa in its fullest, but I do know what it is to linger over the table, in that glow of contentment both physical and emotional. Fullness.
One particular day of Sobremesa stands out from the past year. It was in Round Rock, Texas, at the concrete-pillared intersection of Interstate 35 and 3406, in the sunny, front room at Chuy’s.** With six friends who had not all shared a table in many years, since one of the boys among us was a baby, and the other not even a glint. The boys are lively, little people now, drinking chocolate milk, but also the bewildering evidence of time passing, even if it felt like no time had passed at all.
In Tex-Mex tradition, I think we front-load the Sobremesa. Gearing up for our meal over many baskets of fresh, hot tortilla chips and salsas and the irresistible mystery that is jalapeno ranch. Baskets emptied and then filled. Time passes, but is then restored. Giant glasses of iced tea and diet coke sucked dry, and then in a blink, full again. A never ending spring. We say, No More, but then continue to crunch away, in shared denial that we each have two pounds of food on its way. Steak burritos and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
When the food arrives, it is platters laden with comfort, doused in spicy sauce. With your choice of rice and beans. And afterwards, no dessert. There is never any dessert after Tex Mex. One would have to eat less chips and salsa, and that never happens. But after the plates are cleared away, no one moves to gather belongings and leave. Our glasses keep being filled. We stay. We linger.
On this day I remember discussing the paintings on the wall, of watermelons growing on trees and frogs dancing with princesses. Fantastical. It is all so very fantastical! This curly headed lovely with a giant heart and giant smile, and her man (for he is truly manly) who lives to help others. And the tall, broad-grinned guy with a specialty laugh, who has learned to eat spicy salsa, and who knows every kid’s name, everywhere. And his blond beauty, who is thoughtful and creative and a bit serious in a way that gives her such substance. And my guy, who combines killer wit and kindness and is so excellently bearded. And me, who will make you laugh and laugh with you and will cry with you too. In that moment, we are our best selves. We are all truly wonderful.
The Sobremesa was fueled by the soothing familiarity of the surroundings and these faces, and the pleasure of being at rest. A lot of life orbits had to align for us to have those hours together. As in all friendships there have been sorrows and joys, some shared directly, some observed. And in our larger circles there are even more joys and even more sorrows. Later that day we would visit a friend in hospital, and perhaps that’s one reason why we lingered. Everything in that moment was lively and bright. But not too bright, the Texas heat kept at bay by air conditioning, and any particular sadness or worries driven away by laughter and genuine smiles and hearts being replenished. We stay.
The power of the table is strong. Our time spent there is not frivolous. Let us invite one another. Let us linger.
* I kid. ‘Fixin’ to’ is English! Although some would disagree.
** Related reading: My defense of Chuy’s.