Threads in the Tapestry
“Offer the bread to the person beside you, then serve yourself.”
“Place the bread on your plate first, then pick it up and take a bite. Even when you’re really hungry.”
“Don’t butter the whole piece of bread. Instead, break off a small piece, butter it, then eat it.”
When she was a child, I’m sure my daughter, Elaine, longed for a preflight checklist when we sat down to eat. One of my goals as her mom was to teach her manners–the best manners I knew.
And the table, of course, is an etiquette hotspot.
I remember telling her once: “When you’re all grown up, you won’t always have to use your very best table manners, and you’ll be able to tell–you’ll just know–when more casual manners are okay. But sometimes, you’ll be in situations that call for your very best manners. And if I don’t teach them to you now, you won’t know what to do then.”
When we ate together with others, we used our own secret signals. I would nudge her elbow (subtly! ever so subtly!); she’d remove it from the table. Another tiny nudge, a glance towards her napkin, and she’d place it in her lap. Our eyes shone merrily at our tableside secret.
She was a pretty tolerant pupil, all in all, and she made me proud in all kinds of social settings.
When she was born, I did not see a divorce looming. I didn’t envision returning to college, studying anthropology,
I didn’t plan to travel to French Polynesia to conduct field research.
But all those things transpired. And so, when Elaine was eight, she came with me to a small, remote island in the Pacific ocean, where a generator provided electricity to power the water pump for a few hours each day, papayas grew next to the patio, and the ocean was warm as a bathtub–a great thing, since tapwater, when it ran, was cold.
These two ingredients of my daughter’s childhood always struck me as random.
It just so happened her mom is an etiquette freak.
It just so happened that we lived overseas on a tropical island for a while when she was still small enough to to revel in its unique identity as a place.
Today my daughter, son-in-law, two sons, and daughter-on-the-way live on Hawaii. Later this year, they’re moving to Guam.
Hawaii and Guam, of course, are islands. In the Pacific.
They live there because my son-in-law is a chief in the U.S. Navy. My daughter is a chief’s wife. As a chief’s wife, Elaine has the opportunity to be a tremendous asset to her husband’s career, provided she understands protocol.
Protocol, of course, is all about etiquette.
Watching her life unfold is one of the great joys of this season. And I marvel at the childhood threads that God picks up and works into the warp and weft of her grown-up world. A picture emerges as the years go by.
I can’t wait to see the next detail.
23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.
25 Once I was young, and now I am old.
Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned
or their children begging for bread.
26 The godly always give generous loans to others,
and their children are a blessing.
Psalm 37:23-26 (NLT)