We take turns hosting, and today is my day. It's a lunch for about 12 people, and ordinarily there would be nothing much to say about making that happen. But there are complicating factors.
Most of the other folks have rectories in Manhattan in which to stage a luncheon. Some of these establishments are downright baronial in size and accoutrement (Those of you who are living in a New York apartment half the size of the bedroom you had as a child, take note, and remember to add the sin of envy to your next confession). Me, I don't have a baronial rectory. They could come to the Farm and would enjoy it, I'm sure, but it's out of town.
So hosting is a challenge. I've done it in restaurants, but it's too noisy. Today, I have another idea: there is a lovely old dining room at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with a tiny old butler's pantry attached. Back when people really knew how to live, quiet phalanxes of liveried servants served multiple courses of foods we no longer eat to the great and near-great of New York from that very pantry. The question is, can I prepare and serve something elegant there all by myself?
It has a stove now. It has dishes. It has no flatware, so last week I dropped off a basketful of mine, along with some table linens, when I was there for a meeting. As soon as I get dressed, I'm getting on the train with my folding shopping cart. On my way to the cathedral, I'll stop for groceries and wine and bring it all in. There are no cooking utensils that I can see, but somebody left a few aluminum catering pans. I can roast the chicken and the vegetables in those. I can use one of the pans to toss the salad. It should all come together.
The gorgeous refectory table in that room is ancient and can't be used. Folding tables are what we've got, but cover one with a white cloth and you don't know what's underneath. The utilitarian meeting chairs can't be helped, but I am ready with a joke about their being a treasured inheritance from my mother, if anybody sniffs at them. All the liveried servants have gone on to their reward, so we shall serve ourselves from a buffet table. This pains me slightly, but I will survive it.
The truth is, I don't imagine anyone at this luncheon will sniff at anything. All of the perfectionism in this project is mine, and it is more game than fact. I love to put something wonderful together from what looks like nothing. I love obstacles; remarkable things hide in them.
I feel a prayer coming on as I contemplate my unusual day. This something-from-nothing project is a game to me. I can brag about it to whomever will listen to me, and I don't ever have to do it again if I don't want to. And what I am calling "nothing" is beyond the wildest dreams of millions: shelf upon shelf of abundant food in a supermarket close enough to walk to, money to buy it, a cart to wheel it home in, clean water that bursts from a spigot with the turn of a wrist. A table. A chair to sit on. All this is fabulous wealth.
"And keep us ever mindful of the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves." We usually say that when we pray before a meal. When we dine together, we are in inescapable company with those who do not dine at all. When something is a challenge to me, I get a hint of what life is like every day for many, many people. However good today's lunch is, this prayer may be the best part.