For my Kentucky kitchen table project, I, along with two other students in my Honors 251 class, went to a host table that Ms. Gish assigned to us. At our table was Nate, the host, who is a former math teacher who now preaches at a Disciples of Christ church. This is the second year he has volunteered to let students have dinner in his home for this project. The other two students there were Zachary, who is active in his fraternity on campus, and Abigail, who is majoring in Biology and loves science.
When Abigail and I arrived, we all sat around the table with drinks to get to know a little about everyone before we began our meal. These introductions ended up taking about an hour, and I got to learn a lot about Nate, as well as new things about both of my classmates. Nate was very open about his past and told very funny stories about taking an extra year to graduate because of how often he was “chasing a girl,” and how he eventually reconnected with the girl who he would marry. He was also very open with talking about the death of his wife, and when he spoke about such a hard time with so much candor it really made us connect with someone who we didn’t actually know that well. Throughout the entire night, Nate was extremely honest with us and I appreciated this a lot. I also learned new things about my classmates and where they are from. Zachary is from Louisville, while Abigail is from a smaller town, like myself. She actually lives on a road named after her family, which is something I see all the time where I’m from and I think is so neat. One thing I appreciated a lot was how Nate strived to make connections with each of us. He used to live in a town near Abigail, so they talked about that. We also discussed how, after the death of his wife, he would often go to Barren River Lake to take time and reflect and think. I actually live on the lake and asked if he would stay at the Lodge, which is 15 minutes from my house. He said he did and it was just fascinating to be able to know that this person who I never would have known is so familiar with the place I go to all summer to play sand volleyball or go kayaking. This summer, the Lodge finally reopened the beaches after years of not having sand, and Nate was just as excited as I was. Another way we could relate is that Nate said he always liked to stop and eat at a really good Barbecue place when he was headed to the lake. I immediately knew he was talking about Rib Lickers, as I had spent a year working there. It was just interesting to know that I was in this man’s house who I didn’t know, eating food he had made, when I had probably served him food and never even realized. This idea of the importance in connecting with someone is something that Nate would later discuss in depth once we had started our meal. Nate had prepared a traditional Italian meal of garlic roasted chicken, salad, corn, and spaghetti. Abigail, Zachary, and I had shown off our culture by bringing the staples: chocolate chip cookies, rice crispy treats, and cupcakes.
As this was the Monday after the presidential election, that was a topic bound to arise. Abigail mentioned how she was really glad that when we had discussed Trump’s election in class, everyone had been respectful of each other’s opinions. This is where the connections come in. Nate asked us why we thought that everyone had been kind and not immediately had malice towards those with opposing opinions. Zach said that it was because we all knew each other. Nate agreed and explained that if we have relationships with people, we can look past our differences and still see them as that person who we connected with in the first place. He said when he saw posts on Facebook full of hate he would simply comment things like “Don’t you remember when we had this class together” or some other instance where they hadn’t been two people with conflicting stances, they had just been two people. He also would remind them that he loved them before this and he would love them after. I think this is the perfect message to relate to Citizen and Self because it goes hand in hand with how we can talk better to other people. If we can see the common ground that we have with a person, we can look past our differences because we have the ability to be empathetic with their situation. When someone posts a hate-filled post to everyone on their Facebook feed, they are generalizing and assuming and, until the comments start rolling in, there is no discussion. They post their opinion as being absolute, when no one’s actually is.
Nate also had simple but unheard of advice for people running for office: love your opposition. He believes that if you don’t respect opinions that differ from yours, you have at least got to respect the person holding that opinion. If we start belittling people to what about them we don’t agree with, we become full of hate and lose our humanity. He also talked about his concern for the LGBT community, which he said was the social issue closest to his heart. He said when he taught in high schools he saw the horrible ways that they were treated and he tried his hardest to let kids know that his room was a safe place they could go, and that led several students to eat lunch in his classrooms so they wouldn’t have to eat with the kids that tormented them.
The Kentucky kitchen table was unexpectedly the most beneficial part of this class for me. I expected it to be awkward, but thanks to a gracious host and the two classmates I went with, it was enjoyable and educational (and delicious!) I would recommend doing this project to anyone who wants to learn how other citizens view citizenship or simply just to get to know members of your community better.