Saturday, October 7, 2017

Changing Seats

Dave and I walked into an upscale, Brooklyn-type food establishment looking forward to celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. The maître d welcomed us and then asked if we had a reservation. I assuredly said “yes” as my eyes scanned the room for a preferred table—hopefully something in a private corner with soft lighting. Yet, from where we were standing, I could see only one available space, the large communal table in the middle of the room—the type where several unrelated parties are seated together. Surely there was another place they had tucked away for us, after all, we had reservations and we were celebrating a 32-year commitment.

I was wrong. With all seriousness, the maître d proceeded to escort us to the middle of the room and graciously pulled out a chair for me to sit at the communal table. After he walked away, I looked around the room once more to see if another table had opened up. We weren’t in a hurry so if I saw a guest about to bite into a dessert or order coffee, I was willing to wait it out. No luck. It seemed that everyone was there to enjoy a leisurely evening of good food, drink, and friends.

As our table began to fill up with other dinner guests, I had an option—be agitated about not having the choice seat in the restaurant or embrace the communal table. I decided on the latter and I’m glad I did. The extra tension I felt from being outside of my comfort zone disrupted our customary dining out experience and brought new energy to our conversation.

By the time our entrees were served, I’d transported myself to a European brasserie, where communal seating is the norm. I imaged other dinner guests admiring our lively conversation, laughter, and obvious enjoyment of being together. After all, we were on display. Maybe some were wishing they could appear so comfortable and confident at the communal table.

Just two days later, I experienced another seating predicament. My husband and I arrived a few minutes late for church so we were ushered to the remaining available chairs to the left side of the room and three rows from the front. We always sit in a certain section, center back. My first thought was we’re supposed to be sitting over there. We have come to know the people in those couple rows. But on this day, we experienced church from the left, met new people, and still had time after the service to connect with our familiar friends.

Two seating changes in one week should have been enough to teach me the value of shaking up routines and stretching beyond comfort zones. But, on Monday morning when I walked into my local Starbucks to write for a couple of hours, I was still disoriented when overnight the small tables with 2 or 4 chairs were replaced with, you guessed it, a long center upholstered settee with seating on all sides. My favorite corner table, the one that always makes me feel like I have the room to myself, was gone.

This blog seems it’s simply about changes in seating, but it is much more than that. It’s sitting with changes. Retirement is all about change. So if we can’t adjust to something so small as feeling displaced in a restaurant, then how are we going to manage major changes such as feeling displaced in society?

Instead of avoiding change and disruption in our well-established patterns and routines, we need to seek it. This week I was reminded how challenging even the smallest change can be, and I was encouraged when I realized I can adjust, accept, and even embrace these changes.

Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll reserve a seat at the communal table.

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

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