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A room with differing views

Paul Andersen

I enjoy a world view from my dining room. It’s not seen through windows, but through conversation. It’s not seen with eyes, but with the mind. My dining room has become an observatory from which I view an expanding universe.The dining room began as a struggle. My wife enthused that this “tiny” addition would enhance our home and be well worth the investment. I equivocated about the costs, the time, the hassles of construction. She finally sold me by describing the room as an incubator for ideas.I like ideas. I thrive on their free and open exchange. Ideas have been part of my life since childhood, when I witnessed the lively debates that ensued during the “Literary Club,” a bookish forum my parents created with their friends, and that lasted more than 40 years.My mother loved to stir the soup of intellectual gamesmanship at these convivial gatherings. It was her stirring that kept honest discourse alive in my family home. I came to value the celebration of intimate dialogue as I do my personal freedom; both are liberating.Discussions during my parents’ literary fetes heated up during cocktail hour, but they came to a boil over dinner when each guest read from their place card, which my mother had carefully prepared with a quote, a poem or a cartoon, all neatly woven into timeless themes.The friction generated from ideas rubbing against one another warmed my parents’ lives and inspired me to seek the same warmth from my friends. My wife and I built our dining room, and it has spawned the germination of ideas the way a greenhouse cultivates plants.Some call it a salon, a civil gathering of people who come together to talk, listen, laugh, ponder and explore. The ideal is to ferret out individual truths, and by doing so, gain insights into universal truths. It happens through the amalgamation of disparate perspectives, the way a painting draws from the rainbow colors on a palette.My mother would have smiled to see me last week busily typing place cards half an hour before guests arrived. I drew from Albert Schweitzer, Nikos Kazantzakis, Jack London, John Muir, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Anne Morrow Lindbergh – from books and authors that resonate with me.The discussion soared like a rocket from the launch pad of our world views. Our mental wheels churned out a rich pastiche on which we supped with eager appetites. The conversation was as nurturing as the dinner, spiced with a rare blend of savory ingredients.When you make a meal spontaneously and it turns out to be delicious, it may never be repeated because the ingredients might not come together with the same magical serendipity. It’s the same with a discussion whose parts are random and yet blend harmoniously.Wilhelm Meister, one of Goethe’s dramatic characters, set the stage for enriched dialogue when he said: “Since we are so miraculously met, let us not lead trivial lives.” That remark launched The Aspen Institute in 1950. It instructs us today to view our lives with meaning. It is an invitation to intimacy and deep connections.”Life is not a rehearsal; it’s the real thing,” writes a friend at the end of his e-mails. The sooner we grasp that idea, the more significance we can attach to being. Life as an intriguing journey gives meaning to Frost’s poetic conclusion: “And miles to go before I sleep …”The view from my dining room is best when those gathered at the table take something with them – not a party favor, but a thought, a question, a desire for more. It can’t always be that way, but it’s a great gift when it occurs.Just like a good dinner, a good discussion leaves us hungry the next morning. There are two appetites at work here, and both are necessary for good health. One appetite hungers for good food; the other hungers for ideas and the good friends with which to share them.Paul Andersen doesn’t even mind the dirty dishes. His column appears on Mondays.


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