How to Look at a Table

© Copyright 2020 Richie J Ocean, Ryerson University.

In everyday life, a table is something very present, yet very mundane. Perhaps it is mundane because of its very presentness. As part of the landscape of one’s home life, it is easy to forget that the table is an individual entity, and not just a natural part of the home environment.

Frequently, tables inadvertently become that thing upon which we have hit a body part, having slightly misjudged our spatial relation to it. Perhaps these jarring, disruptive moments are when we are most aware of a table’s physicality.

Brown four legged-table standing in front of a light grey wall, on hard wood floor. There is a vent by the far right table leg.
Ocean, Richie J. “My Table.” Photograph, Ryerson University, 28 January 2020.

At its core, the concept of a table is very simple: it is a flat surface on which things can be placed, it has legs, and is generally at a level that allows for easy access and interaction. There are different types of tables with different materials, styles, sizes, etc. Each of these factors will influence the experience one has with a table, but it generally always serves the same purpose.

The table that I am looking at stands in my living room, although for all intents and purposes it is a dining table. Its history is unknown; upon moving in, my roommates bought it second-hand from a couple. I suppose, in fact, we know a fragment of its history: it has served others before us. It is accompanied by a set of four chairs—a classic dining set combination. It is dark brown, made of some type of wood, glossy, simple, and has four mostly equal-length legs.

More important than its composition and function, though, is the role that it plays in everyday life. A table is a pillar that stands at the heart of daily rituals. These rituals will change for everyone, but they exist. For me, my table is a cornerstone of my morning, where I sit with my coffee to start my day. I strategically position myself around the table based on the desired proximity to the heating vent—a great station for toasting feet on cool mornings.

Consider the ritual of meals. Tables represent a space of coming together. Of sharing. Of nourishing. A table is a key constituent of celebrations, holidays, dinner parties, and potlucks. A shared meal is nourishing for the body in the obvious way of sustenance, but more importantly, it is nourishing for the soul. The true richness comes from those who occupy the table around you. The table holds the food, and organizes people around it. It is the centre of the congregation. To have a seat at the table is to be welcome; to have space to be seen and heard; to be valued; to be in community.

Even to sit and eat alone, it represents a space of showing up for the self, of caring for the self, and of tending to one’s own needs. A table as a space to start one’s day lovingly and with warmth.

Tables are a gravitational centre around which we orbit in unconventional, but recurring patterns. Tables tie people together in space, and in time—a solid pillar amidst moments that morph into memories. I still remember certain tables, and how it felt to sit around them.


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