My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in the town of Buffalo, KY. A small town outside of a small town, Hodgenville. My attendees included:
- Kim- A mother of 5 boys, she is currently going back to school. She insisted that she cook all the food, but allowed us to set the table.
- Rob- A disabled veteran, he is also currently going back to school.
- Cameron- A freshman in the nursing program at Western Kentucky University. He is Virginia’s boyfriend, he’s really cool.
- Virginia- That’s me, I’m a Spanish major at Western Kentucky University.
- Jacob- A senior at LaRue County High School, he is a wrestler. Virginia and Jacob were in marching band together for 2 years.
- Tristan- A 6-year-old, he’s in second grade
- Alex- An 8-year-old, he’s in 4th grade at
- Khyce- He is 15 years old, and a sophomore at LaRue County High School. He recently moved to Kentucky from Florida.
We went through the question list, and I’m going to retrace the steps of the conversation through these questions. They helped to structure the dinner, and to keep conversation moving. This first question was, “Beyond voting, paying taxes, and following laws, what does citizenship mean to you?” Kim responded with, “It means you belong somewhere, you have a group of people you are connected with. It comes with the freedom to be you.”
This question was the only question to get an answer out of the kids, “What do you think are the best things about our world today? Tristan replied, “Bacon pizza… God and Jesus… and my family!” Alex boldly stated, “Life itself.” Which is pretty deep, coming from an 8-year-old.
A question that I already knew the answer to was then put on the table, “What is the thing you love most about living where you do?” Rob chuckled and let out a single word, “Privacy.” This family does live in what most people would consider, “the middle of nowhere.” They have a miniature farm and decent sized garden, with a house full of exotic pets. They’re earthy people, people who appreciate life and what they can create.
Cameron asked the next question for me, “Do you see your job as serving a greater purpose?” Kim said, “Yes, I believe that everything is connected. My work may seem small but it is meaningful.” Which caused me to think of the big puzzle of a country we live in. It’s a puzzle in the fact that it’s made up of pieces. Constantly moving around to find their right spot, but trying to create the bigger picture. Rob responded with, “I believe that my service meant something to this country, so yes.”
Does your religious or spiritual identity relate to how you think we should treat other people? Does it relate to how you see yourself as a citizen? Kim smiled and responded with, “Yes, of course. I model myself to be like Jesus. I strive to be like him in every way of my life, regarding helping those around us.” Cameron then went into a rant on how religion isn’t real and how it’s all just a play on the cycles of the sun. However, he was not scolded for his beliefs, his family allowed his views to be heard. I saw in this family what had always been lacking in mine, an ear to the abstract thought.
Cameron threw out, “Do you think we have any obligations to other people in our country? In our community?” Jacob quipped, “I don’t owe any of these people anything.” Kim rolled her eyes to that response and broadcast, “Yes, we do. If we want others to help us we have to help them.” The golden rule is very much alive in this family. Kim understands more than anyone that hard times can come quick and unexpectedly, she helps people in hopes that if she was ever in their shoes, they would help her. I believe that does put a lot of faith in people who may not be trustworthy, but it reminds me of the video that was watched in class where the little girl was hit by the car. Individualism has dulled human compassion, the want to help others just to help. Being a shoulder to lean on does not make you weak, it makes you a citizen. A part of something greater, the power to help those who are connected to you.
The question, “What advice would you give to people running for office in our country?” was asked. Kim and Jacob handled this question, both saying something upon the lines of, “Tell the truth, do not just say what people want to hear.” This connected me to Ivan Illich’s reading, “To Hell with Good Intentions.” He told the volunteers that they were making things worse. This is not what a bunch of sweaty, comparably rich, white people want to hear. They want to be patted on the back and told their doing great. To be spoon fed positive notes and “everything’s going to be alright.” However, the truth is needed to get things done, quite frankly. Upon the recent presidential election, the entire country is in a state of political turmoil. People are biased, and unwillingly to educate themselves. It’s easy to “bait” voters by telling them things they want to hear, and once in a position of power, the baiters change their mind.
We then moved on to the question, “what social issue is closest to your heart and why?” Kim’s take on this question caused me to go into a downward spiral of self-reflection, “I live in a bubble. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the outside world, because it makes me sad. I can’t help everyone, and I can’t change anything.” Is self-aware ignorance bliss? Or is it foolish ignorance? I would be happy not knowing the perils of the outside world. But, it’s necessary to feel the pain of the world to truly be a part of it. Siddhartha Gautama spent the beginning of his life inside the walls of a palace, held from the darkness of the world. Upon finally adventuring out to see what had been outside his world’s edge, he found the disappointments of the world. They saddened him, but motivated him to find himself upon the mess. Life being more confusing, but also never as clear. He became Buddha and without the outside, he would’ve never truly connected inside. To shield oneself from the perils of the world is one’s own choice, but to break into uncomfortable thought and be ready for disaster, the outside world is needed. Rob’s issue, however, took a different route. “Disrespecting the flag. When they burn it at rallies, or do whatever else besides treat it properly.” I pondered this for a second, it did not send me searching deep into my soul, but rather searching in Rob’s. We all have images of peace, you can wear your favorite sweater or lucky perfume. I suppose an image of peace for Rob is the American flag. During service he saw it as a piece of home, all his loved ones, the reason he was there, and the reason to hope. Burning such an image that is held personally is understandably upsetting. I wouldn’t be any different if people ran through the streets burning stuffed plush bunnies like the one I’ve slept with since I was a kid. I started to think of the conflict that Americans go through with the flag today, scattering it on bikinis and embroidering it on polos. To commercialize such an image is to open it to disrespect, and to appear as a mock to Rob’s way of life.
I learned that people are much more than they seem. Most people would write these people off as country do-nothings. But, they have their own life, thoughts, and needs. They desire to function in peace within their household and community. But, they have moral expectations, which they would hope are also held by those they interact with. They made citizenship feel like a community. Broadcasting that every human has common ground, which, if was more accepted, might cause the need to help others become stronger. This brings us to the question, “How can we live well together?” Coming from this dinner, I saw several solutions to this question. The main theme coming out as the golden rule, “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” To reinstall humanity into our nation would build a better world. Honest politicians, nice community members, and respectful strangers. Not a polarized, angry, and easily fooled mass of consumers. The reading that I would like to connect to this dinner would be chapter in The Empathy Exams, “The Devils’ Bait,” about all the people who had the illness Morgellons. They were all citizens of an illness, they may not have really known each other, but they were connected. They were allowed to be them with their loyalty to their disorder. They found their area to be true citizens, and to perhaps use the power that they felt there to connect to the world outside of the illness they had, Morgellons. This project was just like a regular dinner with them, but with more questions and more attention required. It’s opened the floor to new opinions and perspectives, and I hope to learn more.