My Kentucky Kitchen Table took place in Bowling Green, KY on November 2nd, 2018. I partnered with Kerby and the meal took place around the kitchen table at her house. Including myself, ten people were in attendance. The people in attendance were Megan (myself), Kerby, John, Renee, Beverly, Eddie, Spencer, Dalton, Owen, and Kim. Kerby is a freshman at Western Kentucky University like myself and she is double majoring in International Affairs and Arabic. Kerby was the only person in attendance that I knew, and everyone else in attendance was a stranger to me before the meal. John is a retired former professor at Western Kentucky University, and is married to Renee. Renee is a college professor married to John, whom she met in college. Beverly and Eddie are a married couple that met when they were in high school, and both are employed at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. They also previously worked in retail as well as owned a small business. Spencer and Dalton are Beverly and Eddie’s children. Spencer is studying computer science in college and wants to work in programming. Dalton is employed at Kroger and has dropped out of college twice. Owen is currently studying to work in law enforcement, and is Kerby’s brother. Kim is Kerby’s mother, and is a single mother working for a company called Essity. There was definitely diversity present through the occupations of each person in attendance, as well as religious and political identity. The political opinions of those present certainly differed, as Owen specifically identified himself as more conservative and right-leaning, whereas others in attendance identified as more liberal or left-leaning. There was also diversity present in the age of those in attendance, as several of us were college-age students, while some were older and parents, and some were retired. The generation gap between the people at the dinner obviously gave different perspectives on the issues and topics we discussed.
After we went around the table with initial introductions so everyone knew who everyone was, we jumped into a conversation surrounding service within communities. The main question we discussed was “What does doing service in your community mean to you and how important is service to you?” I brought up my personal experiences, which with my religion and private school history, included a service requirement – a certain number of hours each year I was required to complete in service to my community. I told the group how originally, I viewed the service requirement negatively and as an obligation, believing that having to complete the requirement was a drain on my time and energy, while I already had so much going on in middle and high school. However, after working with organizations within my community like Second Harvest Food Bank and Cottage Cove Child Ministries, and getting to reap the personal rewards of having served my community, I began to view the requirement not so much as an obligation, but an opportunity to give what I could to the local community, like my time and energy. Renee mentioned volunteering her personal time to the local community through things like SKyPAC or in her daughter’s school, and how it benefited her. Both Eddie and Beverly made the point of spending time and energy in service because of the idea of “What if it were me that needed help from someone else?” Beverly specifically noted that if she were in need of help, she would want for someone else to be so giving of their time and energy that they would be willing to help her or her family if they were in need of it. She said this was the driving force behind her doing service in the area, because she very much empathized with those who were being helped by this kind of service. It reminded me of our class discussions regarding empathy, and how the general consensus that empathy was important and necessary to enact change on both smaller and larger scale issues. I think everyone at the table would agree with what we discussed in class, and that empathy is something that is needed by everyone in different situations, and especially to help tackle problems affecting those within the community. People definitely need to have a common ground and understand each other’s struggles in order to be able to effectively serve each other and find solutions to issues.
We talked about the situation of the caravan of immigrants coming to the Mexico-US border from Central America while discussing the meaning of citizenship. We first wanted to discuss the traditional meaning of the word “citizenship” and what it meant to each of us within the legal realm (such as through taxes, voting, and following laws). Most of us agreed that “citizenship,” even in its traditional sense, could be achieved without and is not entirely dependent on a legal document that declares one a citizen. Most of the people who are illegal immigrants in the country, we agreed, are here to make a living for their families, abide by the same laws as all other citizens, and live normal lives in a country that provides opportunity for them, whereas not every country does, and that is something we as a country should celebrate to some extent. The consensus seemed to be that those who stereotype illegal immigrants as criminals and gang members are wrong and making broad, unfair generalizations about a group of people. Beverly and Kim brought up the fact that there are criminals and gang members of every race, nationality, and religion, and that committing crimes or acts of violence cannot simply be attributed to a single group of people. This part of our discussion, I believe, directly correlated with our discussion of the same matter in class on Thursday, November 1, when we discussed empathy and the readings from the “Beyond Hope” section of The Impossible Will Take A Little While. We discussed both at our dinner and in class how the wonderful thing about America is that unless you can trace your roots back to the Native Americans who inhabited America before anyone else, everyone and their family was an immigrant at some point, and they did not always become legal citizens and acquire a visa like we expect immigrants to do now. We agreed that there should be some standard of becoming a citizen in the country, but judging groups of people seeking a better life in America is the same as judging all those that came before you.
We also briefly touched on the topic of the cost of medicine in this country. We generally agreed that medical bills can become almost unnecessarily or outrageously expensive, and unfortunately many in this country do not have the means of paying expensive medical bills like this or even receiving medical treatment due to the cost, especially if they are lacking insurance that might cover a large portion of the expenses. This reminded me of the readings on the opioid crisis, as many dealing with opioid addiction do not have the funds to pay for rehabilitation or programs that might help them to get clean, and that a large portion of those with an opioid addiction developed that addiction after being prescribed a high dosage of extremely addictive painkillers and strong opioids. We discussed how the medical industry largely seeks to profit almost more than necessary or excessively off the bills being paid by those who, most of the time cannot afford it or it will be in financial trouble because of it. This reminded me of how, in the readings, we learned that the pharmaceutical industry makes a large profit off of prescribing the opioids that many become addicted to, even if those who are prescribed them could get by on a lower dosage or a different, less addictive painkiller. Everyone’s individual response to this idea reminded me of how the class regarded the issue of the profit being made off the opioid addiction.
After we brushed up on the traditional definition of citizenship, we all shared what citizenship in the nontraditional sense meant to us. Kim stated that to her, citizenship was being able to contribute to your community in one way or another, whether it be through love, compassion, time, or energy. I agreed and stated that to me, citizenship is making oneself engaged, involved, and aware of the world around them. We agreed that we all have a responsibility towards each other to learn about the people and history within our community, as well as to be involved with what takes place in our surroundings. There is no wrong way to be a citizen, just as long as you act. Regardless of a person’s identity, especially a person’s cultural identity and nationality, we are all called to be citizens through how we act. We discussed how our individual callings and occupations related to that, and how each person’s job on this earth is different but important all the same as long as we have a job to do on this planet and do it well. We agreed that to us, citizenship meant being an active member of not just our country, but the entire world around us. We remarked how important and great it was, as people who may not even know anything about each other, to put aside our differences, come together, and just talk to each other. We spend so much time in our own bubble, that we are not actively engaging with the people who are even just a short distance away from us within the community. It was so nice to be able to have a discussion with each other without letting all the divisive elements of our current society and political climate get in the way. We were all able to just sit together, share a meal that everyone individually contributed to, as we pooled our strengths together, and share in our collective humanity. That was what was so important to me about this meal. I felt like I was doing my duty as a citizen by engaging with those around me, even though it may have been uncomfortable at first and not something I was used to doing, especially with strangers. Throughout the whole meal, nobody was on their phone, distracted by work or school or our personal lives. We put away the distractions, and focused in on each other. It felt so good to have shared a piece of my life with people I didn’t know, but was glad to have met by the end of dinner, and to share in a little piece of everyone else’s life as well.
Through this assignment, I learned so much about the importance of being a part of the community you live in, even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone to share our lives with each other. I learned how important it is to step away from the distractions and divisive nature of our society and just have a conversation with people, respecting their opinions, as they respect yours. There were moments when we did not all agree with each other, but it was still important to all of us to hear everyone’s viewpoint and acknowledge it, even when it differed from ours. Being around the kitchen table together taught me the importance of being a part of the collective humanity in the world and recognizing that everyone else is, too.
(Kim is not pictured as she was the one who took the photo)