I have a friend named Kathleen. She used to live nearby but now lives in Detroit with her husband and son. I miss seeing her and talking with her. I do realize technology enables conversations between people seperated by distances. But, it’s not the same.
Kathleen always challenged me to think bigger and beyond. She asks great questions and she plays these little games. She has one where she asks people to imagine a dinner party where they can invite anyone they want. Then she asks, “Who would you invite?”
I wrote a post about this a few years back. It’s called “Keeping Company”. You can read it here. Or save yourself the time. Here’s my list from that post. I don’t think I would make any changes.
David Letterman (he would ask really good questions, keeping the discussion going)
Flannery O’Connor (because she scares me and it’s good to be scared sometimes)
Paul McCartney & John Lennon (I know, I know)
Tina Fey & Amy Poehler (They will split an entree)
Yo Yo Ma (hopefully he and John would play “Imagine” together)
Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck)
Flannery O’Connor may be the least familiar of these. Wikipedia has this to say about her: “She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a sardonic Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and supposedly grotesque characters, often in violent situations. The unsentimental acceptance or rejection of the limitations or imperfection or difference of these characters (whether attributed to disability, race, criminality, religion or sanity) typically underpins the drama.”
Her book, “The Violent Bear It Away” still gives me nightmares. All of the people at my dinner party, I believe would not be afraid to ask hard, intriguing questions. I probably would have to ask them to clarify and I still might not understand, but I believe they would accept me anyway.
When Kathleen plays this game, she’s not happy to just let you name who you would invite. You must talk about the conversation you imagine might take place. It goes like this: if you ask Kathleen a question, she might say what would the people at your dinner party have to say about it?
For example, (and by the way, I’m using the actual words from my dinner guests in this make-believe scenario) maybe I would acknowledge the despair I sometimes feel these days regarding the state of our Union. Maybe John Lennon would say:
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
To which Flannery O’Conner would surely reply, “To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”
Then Paul McCartney might suggest:
When all the brokenhearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted
There is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Wow, this is getting deep. So we retire to the living room. Now we’re enjoying coffee and pecan pie.
David Letterman says, “If it wasn't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsover.”
The conversation pauses and we listen reverently as Yo Yo plays “Thaïs Méditation” on his cello he just happened to bring to a dinner party at my house.
Then I say something like: Thank God for beauty; for art; for music, and for humor! Tina, you must have grown up in a funny family.
And Tina says, “I grew up in a family of Republicans. And when I was 18 and registering to vote, my mom's only instruction was 'You just go in and pull the big Republican lever.' That's my welcome to adulthood. She's like, 'No, don't even read it. Just pull the Republican lever.’”
The laughter feels good.
Ms. O’Conner says, “At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.”
Lennon and McCartney:
I’m so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone
I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind, I've opened up the doors
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me?
To which Amy Poehler advises, “Don't treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used. And don't try to give me that nerd argument that your heart is a 'Batman' with a limited-edition silver bat-erang and therefore if it stays in its original packing it increases in value.”
Then Atticus takes his watch from the pocket of his vest. I’m not sure if he’s really checking the time or if it’s just a habit—pulling that watch from his vest pocket. He has the full attention of the dinner party and he says, “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”
And Yo Yo plays, “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms”.
A few days later I see Kathleen to tell her thank you for the Dinner Party game. She’s wearing a shirt that says, “Dare to Dream”. So I do.