“Can’t we just invite someone over? It’s been so long since anybody came for supper!” says Susanna as we walk beside each other, on the last stretch of her paper route. The night sky is overcast and dark. Lights and blow-up decorations twinkle and wave in the wind, even though it is already January 7. This isn’t the first time Susanna has asked about having company. She’s mentioned the same sentiment at least three times in the last month or so.
“Covid,” I say. “Remember that?”
The old jogging stroller that we use to haul bundles of newspaper is almost empty now. A loose piece of plastic strapping used for packaging, flies out of the stroller and onto the sidewalk. I bend down to pick it up. When I straighten, I tell Susanna about an idea that I’ve been mulling over.
“Once we don’t have to social distance anymore I think we should start Soup Nights. Like an open-house, every Friday. We’ll tell a whole bunch of people, or maybe just announce it, and see who shows up. I’ll make a huge pot of soup each week and it will be a standing invitation.”
Yes!” Susanna says immediately, before we split ways. She goes down one side of the street, I take the other. When we meet up near the laundromat I can see her eyes shining in the lamplight. “I’ve been thinking about what you said the whole time. Oh, I can’t wait to have people again. When can we start? Next week?”
I hesitate. Covid restrictions are harder for some than others. “It might not be this winter, Susanna,” I answer.
She moans and then musters enthusiasm. “Well, as long as we get this going before I leave for college.”
As soon as we arrive home from our route, Susanna announces our plans to her older sister.
“Open to all of Yorkton? In our home?” Belén echoes. She does not look impressed. “This is not a good idea. Have you told Dad?”
Her initial reaction doesn’t surprise or deter either of us. Susanna runs for a pad of paper and starts scribbling names of every friend and acquaintance she can recall. I continue explaining the idea to Belén. “It will be simple. I’ll write out the expectations for Soup Night and post them.” Belén winces when she hears the last phrase.
I go on about how people will be free to come and go (Stay for 2o minutes or 2 hours!), we’ll offer homemade soup and water (Bring bread or beverages to share, or bring nothing at all!), I won’t be serving people–just enjoying their company (Find the pot on the stove and serve yourself!), and how it will feel organic and informal (There will be space for you at the table, on our couches or on the floor!).
“Well, now this is sounding like a homeless shelter,” says Belén. “So, what, exactly, is the point? Why do you want to do it?”
I still haven’t taken off my ski pants, and chunks of snow and ice that gathered on my cuffs during the paper route are melting in a puddles around my feet. I wipe them with my socks and look at Belén. “To make connections and get others connected.”
“Don’t most people already know each other? Yorkton is a small city,” says Susanna.
“We can make it smaller,” I say. “I’m always meeting people I think we should have over but it feels daunting to invite them for dinner, especially if we don’t really know them. This way, whenever I come across someone interesting, I can tell them to come over the following Friday night.”
“Like the guy from Spain you met at the grocery store, and his very pregnant wife?”
“Yes. And maybe even the people on our street we never talk to.”
By this time Susanna is scrolling through my Facebook feed, looking for names of potential guests.
“Henrique?” she calls out.
“Nope, Brazil,” I say.
“Ka..jer..stin?” she continues, stumbling over the pronunciation.
“Yep,” I interrupt her. “Local”
Susanna adds the name to her list which is now more than 3 pages long. “These people can bring their friends, right?” she asks.
“Exactly, that’s the whole idea,” I say.
Have you heard about Vivek Murthy? Former surgeon General of the United States and passionate advocate for community and connection? I listened to him in an interview recently and immediately ordered his book from the library. In Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World he tells stories and explains why loneliness interrupts our sleep, is riskier than smoking and shortens our life. And what we can do to intervene.
Murthy wasn’t always interested in the intersection of social and physical well-being. When he began his tenure he had had expected to deal with things like tobacco-related illnesses, diabetes and the opioid epidemic–serious issues well-documented in the medical field. As he travelled the country listening to nurses in San Franciso, teachers in Boston, parents in Birmingham and many doctors in between, he was surprised by another national crisis: loneliness. Not only was a palpable lack of connection felt by a huge segment of the population, it was producing measurable and devastating outcomes on their health.
Susanna turns around from the computer screen and shows me the contacts she’s compiled. “I added Marea even though she’s not from Yorkton. She might decide to come anyway.”
Perfect,” I say, then add, “You know, what if this becomes a thing? What if we’re not the only ones who do it, but other people in neighbourhoods all over Yorkton start opening their kitchens on Friday nights too. The city could post a map, lit up with addresses where people are meeting and gathering. In homes! With real people and real conversations!”
Now Susanna is starting to look dubious. “Maybe by the time you’re a grandma,” she says, raising her eyebrows.
Perhaps the whole idea is over-optimistic and foolish. Perhaps I shouldn’t write about something before I actually start doing it. Perhaps idealism will give way to disinterest or fatigue. Perhaps none of this will happen. But tonight, I want to believe it will. I can smell the basil and fennel in the air. I can see the steam rising from the pot and fogging my windows. I can hear laughter and spoons clinking against bowls. I can feel warmth. I can taste togetherness.
Please. Tell me this is possible. Tell me you think it could happen, too.