On a day when most of America was talking about whether football players should kneel for the national anthem, and Puerto Rico was under water, and health care was on the butcher block, and North Korea was shaking a threatening fist in our direction, I witnessed a simple dinner between neighbors.
But to call it a simple dinner is to ignore the significance, just as calling it an early fall evening would be to set a different kind of scene than what I found, one September Sunday, down at the bridge in town. A resolute summer sun intended to make itself known across the three rivers in Rome, Georgia. As I made my way from my car on the main drag toward the walking bridge that spanned the water, sweat coursed from head to toe. I heard the children before I saw them, as resolute as the sun, to squeeze every drop out of summer. The ran and splashed in the fountains at the town green. Parents smiled and nodded from benches.
A band struck a note and started to play, guitars, bass and banjo floated like a breeze, and a woman’s voice started the party. Across the bridge, table after table ran the length of the bridge, and people sat across from each other, ready for dinner. Young students from the college dressed in white shirts and black pants stood ready to fill glasses with water and tea, smiling toothy bright smiles of the young.
The dinner was billed as an event to meet your neighbors, to simply break bread. There was no agenda. There were no talking points. There wasn’t even, in this most devoted area, a pray or a pledge. They organizers said, “No politics. No religion. Just dinner.” I thought they were crazy; how do you keep religion or politics out of a dinner intended to bring neighbors together? Their very idea was radical.
A seating chart ensured that besties didn’t get to sit near each other. Small groups of strangers began the tentative work of chit chat over plates of locally made pita and hummus. Their voices grew more confident over the locally grown greens, and by the time the entree was served, from the local spot on the main road, the voices near drowned out the band. Below us, a woman paddled her kayak downstream, while hippies and grandmas, preppies and hipsters shared stories,. A row of police officers, having started the meal looking tense, settled into their chairs, their shoulders relaxing, their smiles coaxed out with the lilt of southern accents and sweet tea.
Just talking. And listening. And breaking bread. They didn’t need a symposium or a slate of highly sought speakers. They didn’t need a program or a workshop. They needed to meet and talk and eat and enjoy a summer day. The rest of the world roiled on, but on this day, there was peace at the river.