The clock struck 11:55 AM as the class collectively stood up and rushed for the door in an eager attempt to be first in the lunch lineup. Down in the gymnasium students assembled with heavy, orange cafeteria trays in hand, waiting for the day's offering of cardboard Stromboli or a breaded chicken patty on a soggy bun. A collective sigh filled the air as hungry students dreamt of Lunchables and Capri Suns.
I joined my fourth grade class, dawning my shag carpet-colored tray and internal anxieties. The food was enough to give anyone stomach upset but that wasn't the cause of my angst. It was what came after the Stromboli, syrupy fruit cup and case of milk cartons. I was scared of the lunch table.
This particular elementary school year I didn't have a single friend in my class. This was problematic enough during the eight periods of school subjects but it became catastrophic during lunch. Although every fourth grade class ate lunch during the same period, students were not permitted to co-mingle with other fourth grade classes. Even though my best friend was in the same cafeteria, eating at the same time, she was in a different class. Translation: she was off-limits. Our elementary school cafeteria was as segregated as Epcot except the principle missed the memo about Disney characters and, oh yea, the fun. The lunch supervisors were more like commanders than cartoons, specializing in the dictating of rules and none of the lighthearted cheer of rides.
As was my usual practice, I took a seat at the end of Mrs. Fuller's table. I don't recall who I sat next to or if anyone ever extended the olive branch of conversation and good will. All I remember is cold cheese and the sound of reverberating echoes bouncing off the walls as hyper kids expelled their excess energy before 12:25 rolled around.
Fourth grade has long passed but the memory of a solitary lunch is fresh in my mind. Isn't it funny how, as a child, being alone is a horror? Especially when the rest of the room seems to have a friend, someone to laugh with and someone who might share a bite of their Lunchable. Fast forward twenty years and a solitary lunch doesn't look so scary. In fact, it looks downright peaceful and relaxing.
The table set for one from the elementary school perspective sounds like a dreaded way to finish a meal but in reality, a table set for one can be the perfect place-setting. You see, God doesn't always want us surrounded by a crowd of people nor does He always intend for us to have a boisterous circle of friends surrounding our every waking hour. Sometimes God just wants us alone and quiet. It is in those moments of solitude that we can hear the still, small voice of God speak to us over our Stromboli. Well, maybe not Stromboli. But you get the picture. Sof tonight you find yourself at a table set for one take a moment to bask in the unseen company of God's presence, say a little prayer and enjoy your meal.