The People Around the Table

Dishing up for Christmas dinner.

It’s been my personal tradition every Christmas season, for many years, to sit down at watch Leo Buscaglia’s Stories of Christmas Love and I did that last night. Back in the stone age, it used to air annually on PBS. I eventually bought the DVD from PBS as part of a set. (If you’re curious, you can find a five-minute clip from the show here.) 

Watching it reminds me not to get caught up in all those things that snatch our attention away from what’s really important — specifically: who’s around the dinner table. And, especially due to the last two years, who is no longer around the dinner table.

One of the things they never tell you when you’re a kid is how much work the holidays are. I don’t just mean all the cooking and cleaning, entertaining, and cooking and cleaning some more. I mean that part of being an adult includes working to make Christmas special, or at least get it to come off as close to “without a hitch” as possible.

When you’re a kid, you get two weeks off school to spend playing with friends and new toys that just showed up Christmas morning because Santa brought them while you were asleep. That extra-special Christmas dinner that’s been making the house smell so good all day gets plunked on the table in front of you and maybe you had to set the table.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but that’s not how it is when you’re an adult. Most of us don’t get two weeks off work — when I worked retail, you were lucky to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. When you’re not at work, there’s planning, buying, and wrapping the presents (not to mention the strain that puts on the budget and hiding those presents until the big day). Planning, buying, and cooking the dinner (and the often forgotten Christmas breakfast, after you open your gifts) then cleaning up after dinner and the game of Christmas leftovers Jenga you play in front of the open, stuffed-to-the-gills refrigerator. Include in there that after all the work I just mentioned, both the gift opening and the dinner are over and done within about fifteen minutes.

With all of that and everything the could possibly and does go wrong, it’s very easy to see how one could become Scrooge-like during the holiday season. Here’s the thing, though:

None of it matters a whit if the right people aren’t around the table.

After the last couple of years, there are more people than usual that will be missing from around everyone’s dinner table. Sitting down to dinner and looking at that empty chair makes the holidays far more difficult to endure and all those in that situation this year have my deepest sympathies.

During the late-1960s or early-1970s, one of Leo Buscaglia’s students put a poem on his desk. I first heard him read this poem back in the mid-1980s. I was listening to it on cassette while I was driving somewhere. Had to pull the car over. Couldn’t see. It, too, reminded me about who’s around the dinner table. I’ve related it to many people over the years as it’s one of the most poignant things I’ve ever come across, even after more than thirty-five years.

Things You Didn’t Do

Author Unknown

Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and I dented it?
I thought you’d kill me.
But you didn’t.

And remember the time I dragged you to the beach, and you said it would rain, and it did?
I thought you’d say, “I told you so.”
But you didn’t.

Remember the time I flirted will all the guys to make you jealous, and you were?
I thought you’d leave me.
But you didn’t.

Remember the time I spilled blueberry pie all over your car seat?
I thought you’d hit me.
But you didn’t.

And remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans?
I thought you’d drop me.
But you didn’t.

Yes, there were lots of things you didn’t do.
But you put up with me, you loved me, and you protected me.
And there were so many things I wanted to make up to you when you returned from Vietnam.

But you didn’t.


So, let me ask you a question. When you sit down to that dinner table next Saturday, December 25, 2021, and you look around at everyone seated with you, what if you found out one of those people won’t be there next year? Your dad, your mom, your husband, your wife? Aunt, uncle, cousin? Or God forbid, one of your kids? What would you do?

Whatever the answer is, do it this year.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz! See you in 2022!


Just an FYI: this will be the last of these Saturday posts for this year. The next two Saturdays are Christmas Day and New Years Day when most of us will be otherwise occupied. Look for the next post on Saturday, January 8, 2022.

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