She stood quietly to the side as others gathered around with their questions or personal stories or parting greetings. As the others left the room and I turned, her eyes clouded and she carefully chose her words.
“I understand that I have an obligation to make peace with others. But what if,” she faltered a bit, “the others won’t allow me a place at the table?”
I had heard the question before from at least a dozen people. And at least a dozen other times, I listened carefully and asked questions to see if I could catch a glimpse of an understanding of why there was no room for the questioner at the peace table.
There are various reasons that arise. Most common are those that surround relationships that move too fast. Words are said that aren’t heard. Or meanings are heard that weren’t intended. In those cases, the prescription for the problem revolves around the idea of slowing down.
With this woman, I explored that possibility. “No,” she said. “You don’t understand. I’ve tried that. And we did have some conversations. But now they say they’re tired of talking. More specifically, they are tired of talking to me.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m no longer welcome. I’ve seen their peace table and there’s no chair for me.”
I asked more questions. As she told her story and as her passion for the conflict grew, I could almost see the scene. She stood at the door and watched as they pulled away the one empty chair and announced that her place was gone.
“Why do you think they did that?” I asked.
At first, she said she didn’t know. But as I drew her story out, she suddenly straightened and stopped breathing. When she finally opened her mouth, her tears started again and she gasped for air.
“They don’t want to talk to me any more because I told them I didn’t believe anything they said. I refused to listen to anything I didn’t agree with,” she stopped for a breath. “I lost my place at the table because I wouldn’t hear their story.”
We talked a while longer and her emotions overcame her. “What have I done? How will I ever regain my place?”
I never have any specific direction to give at this point. Instead, we talked about things she shared in common with them. Perhaps, I suggested, there is something there that would cause them to invite her back.
“But what if there isn’t? What will I do?”
“Then you must set a new table with places for them,” I replied. “And you must explain that the table is meant for them and their story.”
“Do you think they’ll come to my table?”
I really don’t know how to answer that question. What I do know is that each of us needs to have a peace table set and waiting. In all likelihood, it will be filled with a few guests we expect and many more we don’t.
Is your table set?