An Italian Mama Lesson: The Miracle of the Meal

I recently invited a graduate student to join us for our family dinner. I’m on the phone with the Italian Mama, and I’m telling her how this student asked with astonishment if I prepare family dinner like this every night.

She sounded like I once did when I complained to the Italian Mama about the time commitment and exhaustion of making a family meal every single night. Back then, when my teens were so young, I would wonder, Why am I doing this? I shop for food, prepare this meal, they eat in 10 minutes, and then we’re cleaning up! I’m tired!  

Why would I do this? Why would I keep doing this? I once even calculated that, by the time the oldest left for college, I will have prepared over 6,000 meals.

The Italian Mama taught me this all those years ago and reminds me of her wisdom again this morning:

This gift of the family meal–when she surrenders completely to the beauty and symoblism of this task– is the most important thing she does in a day. Not her career? Not her public accomplishments? She talks to me in poetry as she describes the family meal as a miracle, a sacrament, a ministration of love. The Italian Mama explains the communion of it: you prepare this beautiful gift of a meal, gather your family, present it to them, and provide a connection to one another and to God. It’s a powerful, precious gift. We don’t even understand how special it is.

She does it again: The Italian Mama knows how to infuse the sacred into my most mundane tasks. I think again about the tacos I’m making tonight. I think about peeling the garlic and onions for the special rice and beans we make. I think about the chopped tomatoes and lettuce. I think about how I’ll present the meal on the Blue Italian plates I love. I’ll put out an extra plate in case someone pops in to join us. We’ll sip our ice water, crunch our tacos, and talk about the wonder of the day. We’ll nourish our bodies and our souls. We’ll look into one another’s eyes. We’ll rest. And then we’ll push our chairs back and go into the evening having participated in a sacred ritual.

I’m not just cooking. I’m worshipping, rejoicing, communing.

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