If Beale Street Could Talk

We are happy, even, that we have food enough for Daniel, who eats peacefully, not knowing that we are laughing, but sensing that something wonderful has happened to us, which means that wonderful things happen, and that maybe something wonderful will happen to him.

— James Baldwin

My favorite scenes in If Beale Street Could Talk (both the film and the book) happen at home. The first—though, chronologically, the second—is in the apartment Tish shares with her family. She reveals that she is pregnant to her mother, who creates a small celebration around the dining table with Tish’s sister and father to bring them into the joy and fright of a possible new life.

Then they invite Fonny’s parents and siblings over so that they might also enjoy and live in the news. It doesn’t go as well, but in it, we learn about the power and limits of hospitality and the malleability in the definition of family. It’s instructive for all that will follow in the story.

The other setting I love is the one quoted above. Fonny has a place in the world that is his, and sometimes it is also Tish’s, and they can invite an old friend into it and share a meal and fellowship. I do not know that I’ve read words more beautiful than Baldwin’s in describing that feeling of being able to provide respite to another. To sit around a table, break bread, drink a little, and talk. The intimacy and hope and security it brings, even if only for a few hours.

It builds us up. It fortifies us for whatever the world might throw our way.

We are in the process of buying a place right now. After figuring out if a space fits us, the next question on my mind is will it meet the needs of our people. We aren’t constant hosts, inviting others into our residence frequently, though we consider doing so often. Last year, my family tried to establish a new tradition of monthly dinners at each of our spots across the city. We were pretty good for about half the year, and I very much enjoyed the times we hosted including a Mother’s Day meal that had more people seated at our table than ever before. More common, though, is for us to have a single guest over, like Fonny and Tish, and we put on some music and pour some liquor, and we treat each other with kindness and sincerity for as long as necessary.

Lately, I’ve taken to watching home tours on Architectural Digest’s YouTube channel. People seem to take a few different approaches to make the home of their dreams: to impress, to nest, or to welcome (occasionally, a home contains all three).

What I’ve learned watching those tours, especially while I’ve been reading Baldwin’s words is that if we get nothing else right, let’s do the last. Let’s make it so that our family—blood or chosen—feels welcome and that from the time they enter and until they leave, they will know that something wonderful happening is always a possibility.

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