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Love Looks Like My Aunt's Table

In Hong Kong, two things are very valuable. One is space. There isn’t much of it. Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities on the planet. The Mong Kok neighborhood where we have been staying in Hong Kong has approximately 130,000 people per square kilometre. That is a lot of people.

In Hong Kong, two things are very valuable. One is space.

The other valuable thing in Hong Kong is family. Chinese families used to be very large, but in modern times, people are choosing to have fewer children. Fortunately, my mother and father-in-law came from the larger, old-style families with seven and five siblings each respectively. While some family members live in other countries, most have remained in Hong Kong.

Whenever we go back to reconnect with the family, we rarely are on our own. This isn’t a vacation to check out tourist hot-spots and scenic views, though we do engage in a little of that. Mostly, we spend time visiting and eating with family. In Hong Kong, sometimes we joke that going out to eat is an endurance sport, but these gatherings are more than culinary adventures, they are times of connection.

In Hong Kong, sometimes we joke that going out to eat is an endurance sport.

The traditional Chinese dining table is round, with a Lazy Susan jammed with bowls of seafood, meat, vegetables, noodles, rice, and the occasional dish that I can’t identify immediately. No one is at the head of this table—all around the table have an equal place. Hospitality is shown by serving others before yourself, especially by keeping the teacups full and warm, and watching that no one is still plucking morsels with their chopsticks before wheeling the Lazy Susan in your own direction to grab another bite. There are often multiple conversations going on simultaneously, and the voices and aromas combine in a sensuous experience of harmonious cacophony. This is what love sounds like. This is what love smells and tastes like.

Because space is scarce, most of this dining happens in the numerous restaurants that serve as the dining rooms for the residents of the city. But one aunt and uncle have the means to have a large, round, dining-room table in their spacious apartment. This table has served as the surface around which this large extended family has gathered over and over again.

I’ve been coming to Hong Kong for 21 years now, and every time I have come, I too have eaten at this table. This past week, we gathered around that same table again. We all are a little older, some of our children have grown up, and some are still growing up. Looking at the wooden table, I noticed that its surface too is developing a patina, its grain revealing the wear from decades of family meals. This is what love looks like.

Looking at the wooden table, I noticed that its surface too is developing a patina.

This morning we gathered at a multiethnic Anglican church with people from numerous countries and ethnic groups. As a part of worship, we lined up in front of a table like a parade of nations.

Each of us took a papery wafer and dipped it in a cup of wine, while hearing the words: “This is Christ’s body broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, spilled for you. Remember and believe.” People have been hearing these words and repeating this act for over two thousand years. It is one of the few things modern people can do that reminds us who we are and who we have been for millennia. This is what love is like.

In our home is a large, solid, oak dining table. My father lovingly restored its surface a few years ago; it was already showing the scars of hundreds of family meals and we wanted to give it as many years as possible.

My wife and I love to host people for dinner. Not everyone has room in their home to have many people over, but we have been given the means to have this table and a room to put it in. We have a wide group of family and friends: people from many racial and ethnic groups, people from various political persuasions, people more than twice our age and people who are more than half our age, people who are vegetarians and people who love barbecue. We love seeing them pack out our kitchen, fill all the chairs and benches we own, eating and talking until long after the sun has gone down. This is what love feels like.

“This is Christ’s body broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, spilled for you.”

As we are returning home I’m looking forward to gathering around our oak table again. I’m looking forward to seeing our family and friends from that side of the world again. I’m looking forward to seeing the people who come over often, the people who are hesitant to come over because they are shy but whose presence is a welcome joy, and wondering what people who have never been over yet will be around our table someday soon.

But I hope my table, like my aunt’s and the Lord's table, continues to remind me of what love means as it once more takes on the layers of the scratches and scars from the wear and tear of times spent around it.


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