On May 12, 2021

The return of community

By Madeleine May Kunin

Editor’s note: Madeleine May Kunin, a Democrat, was the 77th governor of Vermont, serving 1985-1991. 

It’s almost the end of lockdown. Light is coming through the open door. Fresh air is rushing in.

Outdoors, we can breathe again, without being muffled by masks.

Where I live, at Wake Robin, a senior living community, the dining room opened up into a real dining room once again after more than a year of being silent as a vault. The first night it opened, the dining room sounded as if the clock had struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Yeah! We could eat together again!

What joy. The only thing missing was fireworks. And confetti. There were a few balloons. And noise. Laughter bounced off the glasses. Chatter hit the ceiling and ricocheted back to the tables. A birthday party? No, just a reunion of some 150 people who hadn’t been together for ages.

For all that time, dinner had been delivered in a large brown paper bag, left at everyone’s doorstep. The bag was packed with all the courses that comprise a balanced meal: soup, salad, a main course and dessert.

The food was takeout, with all of its limitations. Even after getting it out of the microwave and transferring it to my plate, in my kitchen, the food was dry. I ate it because I was hungry, almost as a duty. The problem wasn’t the food. The kitchen did their best to make dinner attractive. The problem was that I was eating alone most nights. Alone, I ate too fast, wanting to get the meal over with. Bizarre as it sounds, food tastes better when you’ve got company.

I know I shouldn’t complain about food. I was fortunate, living in a safe place, having food delivered to me, and not having to worry about going shopping, paying the rent, losing my job or caring for others. I was lucky, I kept telling myself.

The euphoria I felt that first night in the dining room showed me what I had been missing during the height of the pandemic. People! We are social beings. Some more so than others. But most of us enjoy sharing a meal with others. I thought I knew that before the arrival of the pandemic. But with the reopening of the dining room, I realized for the first time what social interaction means. It means laughter between bites. Smiles exchanged with a neighbor in line, placing my order for dinner. Then, sitting down at a table for four and having conversation.

Eating dinner together in the dining room again transformed us from being isolated individuals to a community.

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