empathy at work

Our family dinner plates are white. One of them has two small round chips on the edge, not much bigger than a nickel, at what could be the 5:30 and 6:30 positions. I always found it odd that of the 2 times the plates got chipped, it happened to be the same one.
One day, years ago, when we were setting the table for dinner, Olivia offhandedly mentioned, “oh, Bump’s got the hippo plate!” It turned out that the children always noticed who at the table had this particular plate, the chipped one, the one with nostrils. It became a favored item, but not as in “I want that plate!” but rather “let’s give Per the hippo. His LEGO thing fell apart.” Or “Daddy had that big presentation today. Let’s give him the hippo.” And, occasionally, someone will set the hippo at their own place at the table, and the rest of us know we might just want to check in. At the back end of a hard day when I’ve felt overwhelmed and unappreciated, finding the hippo at my place has, I kid you not, turned the whole dang thing around.
There’s really not some huge hippo drama every night at our table. Caring and love comes in all shapes and sizes, and the hippo can accommodate them all. What we’ve found in a simple chipped dish is a quiet shorthand of our connection to one another, a way to recognize one among us – for whatever it is – as we come together for a meal. -t

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