The other night we had a friend round for drinks. (Yes, we were socially distanced, yes we sat outside). She stayed for supper and we ate hamburgers, cooked for us by my 18-year-old son.
There were rolls from the local Spar, cheap cheddar cheese, slices of tomato and some lettuce. And a few sliced gherkins. We make our own hamburger patties, with supermarket onions and lots of Aromat. We laid the table with the usual family mats and hauled out the everyday crockery.
None of this is in any way unusual.
Except that it was unusual.
Before Covid-19 blindsided the whole world, if we invited friends round for supper, the meal would have been considerably fancier than family hamburgers. I would have hauled out a tablecloth, and set the table properly. A menu would have been planned, possibly with dessert or a starter.
And it would have been a lovely dinner party – but there would have been some stress and thinking and worrying involved. What if we can’t get that particular brand of ice cream? How are we going to time making roast potatoes along with the chicken on the kettle braai? And so on.
In other words, quite a lot of unconscious fretting about what other people would think about our social event. A worry that somehow we don’t measure up to some invisible standard of dinner party-ness.
But this last Friday, all there was was the simple joy of spending time with someone who we like very much and have not seen in ages. We talked, we laughed, we discussed deep questions about life in South Africa. We caught up on gossip.
And we all felt that it had been wonderful. Said my friend via WhatsApp the next morning: “Thanks again for a lovely evening – so nice to feel almost back to almost normal and please thank Jack for his fabulous burgers.”
This is what Covid has given me, precisely because of the things it has taken away: a deeply felt appreciation for the things that really matter. Friendship. Human contact. Relationships.
I have remembered something that got lost in 21st century life: substance matters more than style. It’s not dinner parties that are important, or what other people think about our food. It is the people we see at those dinner parties. I had not realised how important human connection was to me until it was taken away.
It’s my hope that those of us who survive this time will remember to live with this embedded in our bones: connection is everything. And that we will fuss a little less about dinner parties.