Good tables

With Hanukkah celebrations recently behind us and Christmas coming fast, I’m kicking off my regular blog posts with a holiday thought that I also recently shared with fellow American expats and others at the annual Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently, and, more specifically, our choice of words as diplomats especially when we use prescriptive ones. And, of course, words from Churchill and FDR are closely associated with the formation of the special relationship (famous words in their own right). Those thoughts against the background of the holidays brought an image to mind that, ironically, has nothing to do with words at all: Making good tables.

I remembered an anecdote from the British writer and devout Anglican, Dorothy Sayers, who was frustrated by what she’d been hearing from the pulpits on Sundays. She wrote of a young carpenter sitting in the front pew while the vicar told him, “Don’t forget to come to church on Sundays”, “Don’t drink so much, “Don’t, don’t, don’t…..”

She said, “What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life & occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?”

She wrote that in the middle of Second World War. Around the same time, another kind of good table was made.

President Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Gil Winant, were in Cairo for a war-planning summit. Roosevelt invited Churchill and Winant and their staff for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The president carved the turkey himself and gave the following toast:

“Larger families are usually more closely united than small ones and so this year, with the people of the United Kingdom in our family, we are a large family and more united than before. I propose a toast to unity and may it long continue.”

That unity continues.  I see it every day.

This is a good time of year to remember to try to make good tables in both senses: First, like Sayers’ carpenter, to do whatever it is we do every day and do it well as a way of giving thanks; and, second, as Roosevelt did, to expand our community by welcoming others to our table.

It’s hard to imagine the US Embassy as a metaphorical table. Too hard, really, so I won’t even try. But, in any case, you’re welcome here and I hope you’ll have reason to come visit.