Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Joy and suffering at the kids’ table

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 17, 2019

In my childhood, every big family event had a long table with a pretty lace cloth and nice china arrayed upon it. There were delicate wine glasses and usually a cluster of freshly picked flowers as a centerpiece.

This was the adults’ table, where everyone was expected to show good manners and partake in discussions in a calm and reasonable manner.

But what I remember most vividly was the kids’ table, which was placed far enough from the adults to cause them as little grief as possible.

At the kids’ table, there were three older cousins, Toni, Joanie and Daniel, then the middle tier, consisting of my sister, Rosemary, and myself—and then the littlest cousins, Julie and Johnny Boy.

At this table you didn’t use a napkin to wipe your mouth, since your sleeve was more readily available. You could slurp the soup loudly enough to get a round of applause from the other kids.

You could also engage in competitions that involved catapulting a spoonful of peas across the room for a direct hit on the couch.

There were certain unspoken laws at the kids’ table. Anyone who tattled on the other occupants would be called “baby” and suffer ostracism for the rest of the day. Anyone who knocked a smaller cousin off a chair would be called a bully.

Although I didn’t realize it then, the table conveyed some important lessons about the Communion of Saints—the mystical link between people on Earth, folks in purgatory and the ones in heaven.

We all affect each other through our prayers, and we are all connected in ways that are subtle and mysterious. Who knows when a joyful saint in heaven might be praying for someone on Earth, helping them avoid making a huge mistake?

Who knows when our earthly prayers might allow a suffering soul in purgatory to earn her stripes and head to heaven?

Just as with the Communion of Saints, there were moments of both joy and suffering at the kids’ table. A delightful round of applause broke out when Daniel placed straws in his mouth to imitate a walrus. Cries of “no fair” emanated from Julie and Johnny Boy when someone swiped their desserts.

The adults had a hands-off policy with the kids’ table, unless the level of noise reached deafening proportions, threatening to wipe out their conversations. It was then that an uncle would glare at us and start to rise out of his chair.

Just the look in his eyes was enough to silence us and transform us into angelic beings, who acted with kindness and grace for about ten minutes.

And you can bet that if an adult actually showed up at our table to intervene in some mishap, there would be immediate finger pointing and shouts of “He did it” and “It’s not fair!” At which point the adult would utter the words of doom: “One more argument and there will be no dessert!”

That was long ago, and eventually we all grew up and graduated to the adults’ table. We learned how to sip soup without slurping and to squelch the desire to imitate various zoo animals.

When I look back now, I see that I learned so much from the kids’ table. Bigger people often lord it over smaller ones. You can’t always count on the adults to rescue you. Life really isn’t fair, but if you’re lucky you get dessert anyway.

Most of all, I see we were all part of the same thing, much larger than ourselves. We would learn later that it’s called the Communion of Saints, and it would connect us even after we went our separate ways.

We all married and some of us had children, then grandchildren. Some of us eventually lost our spouses—and Daniel was the first to die.

And even though the kids’ table exists now only in memory, it seems we are all linked in some mysterious way, through our prayers, joys and sufferings, until the end of time—and beyond.