Everyone has that friend.
The friend that is always checking up in people asking them “how are you? really?”, cleaning up the red solo cups at their party while people are still indulging in the froth-water light beer, and planning functions with a myriad of people you’d rather not hang out with that night.
The photo book friend.
I’m that friend. In college, some repressed gene emerged mid-way through my first semester of second year, a gene that exposed my love of hostessingand an overwhelming need to bring all of my friends around the same table. The friend that makes the photo-book for everyone bef abroad , the friend that constantly checked in with the others and the girl that created a premature Facebook group to keep our eleven friends, all of whom lived within a mile radius, connected.
I’d made a commitment to myself after a selfish first-year that I would put my friends first, and I savored being the connector. This would have been all fine and dandy had I not took it personally that, sometimes, sophomores in college do not want to be told what to do nor be cleaned up after. Like my own parents, I quickly realized that taking the actions of fun-chasing, free-spirited, twenty year-olds to heart was exhausting and a waste of time.
One of the things that I forced upon my poor friends was the “family dinner”. Once a week, I sanctioned a “fam din” at one of the four dining halls (keeping it classy), asking whoever was available that week to show up. Some of my friends, the friends that were grappling with their own sense of identity and naturally inclined to resist any forms of constraint, grumbled and complained, making rare but worthy appearances.
But the majority of my friends made the effort every week to show up to a robust conversation over god-awful, southern-inspired cafeteria food. As soon as we all crammed into a corner booth at Colonnades or the round table at the fancier 1889, we were giddy like kids, anxiously relaying stories from our school week. The catch-up sessions (I took to calling them Heinz 57’s) were laugh inducing, tear jerking and thought provoking, sometimes in that order but typically cycical throughout the hour or two the dinner lasted. It was our chance to decipher that strange text message from Duffy’s on-again, off-again fling, to celebrate the achievement of Chelsea being inducted into an honors business society or erupt in laughter at Jessica’s awkward class presentation story.
I’m not sure my friends will ever understand how much those meals meant to me. Bringing all the people that I loved into one place made me feel complete; I naively believed that because I felt connected to them, they would all naturally feel connected and hit it off, always. Growing up, we placed a high importance on family dinners; it was basically the only routine in our household. Conversation that is sparked over good food with good people is unprecedented and irreplaceable. I believe that people’s truest selves shine brightest from the dinner table, a place where they feel at ease because, after all, it is a consistent action- they sit at some form of a dinner table every single day.
So when it came time to celebrate my first Canadian Thanksgiving, it was only just that a proper dinner connecting some of my newest and closest friends was to happen. With two Australians, a Peruvian, an American and a Canadian, we had the recipe for an interesting dinner from the get-go.
This was our first time ever cooking a real Thanksgiving meal on our own, and it was scary. Several times leading up to the day I questioned Carling, “are we seriously going to cook a turkey? Isn’t that like, really, really, hard?” Throw in three people who have never eaten a stuffed bird or candied yams and this challenge became downright terrifying.
Luckily, after the idea was born, my friend Carling took the lead on this, actioning and executing everything from stuffing the bird to setting the table. I acted as a sous-chef to her, completing any and all minute tasks as she took control. I watched with amazement as she whipped her way around the kitchen, much more knowledgably in the kitchen than her 20 years gave off. Her first time cooking a bird, she was just as nervous as I, and the two of us buzzed around the kitchen like bees as our other friends watched.
The entire meal took over ten hours to complete, from shopping to thawing to serving it all up on a silver platter. We did not hold back; it was equally important with Carling as it was for me to bring this massively important tradition to our friends who had never experienced it before. What is Thanksgiving but a family dinner on steroids, the truest form of connecting awesome people over an awesome meal? Both of us the photo book friend, we made it a priority that our hosts, Chelsea and Xav, walked away with the understanding and appreciation of the dinner as we did.
Once completed and laid out, I felt my heart swell with pride- we’d done it. It wasn’t just cooking the food that was scary; it was the entire action of bringing people together over a formal dinner. I’d brought this love for connecting people over the table with me to a new country, and somehow, in two short months, I’d found people to fill the seats, seats that would be empty had I not embarked on this journey thirty days ago.
These thirty days have forced me to get outside my comfort zone and commit to things I normally never would have, which in return has granted me with incredible opportunities and caused me to form amazing new, honest relationships.
Here’s the crazy thing: after thirty days of challenging myself to leave my comfort zone, this perspective shift has become permanent. People say that it takes thirty days to make a habit stick, and I finally understand it. I say yes without a second thought now, I make bold requests and ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I feel like even though I’m tempting fate and putting myself out there in an extreme way, I’m more in control of my life than I’ve ever been.
So what’s next? Trust that I’m doing one thing a day, even if I’m not sharing it here. My commitment is now to share one scary thing a week here, the “best of” from the week, if you will.
My ask? Join me. Stop thinking about it, telling me you want to do it, or saying “once I graduate/work settles down/ I have some free time/ my children go to college” you’ll do it. Do it now.
Scary shit awaits.