By Arika Johnson

If you knew you were about to eat your last meal, what would you choose to have served?

In the spring of 1996, I ventured to my grandparent’s home in north Fargo, a six mile walk from the campus of Concordia College. When I walked into the house, my grandmother was sitting peacefully at the kitchen table overlooking a picturesque window. She was engulfed by the peace of the blue jays eating the seed that Grandpa placed religiously in the feeder every morning. As I joined my grandmother, she quietly got up from the table, walked into her bedroom, and brought back a photo album. She began sharing with me the stories of my ancestors, showing me photographs, sharing with me the details of my Norwegian ancestors immigrating to the United States.

She spoke to me about our similarities. The photos revealed a link that connected history to the present, and at that moment, with my grandmother, I felt a belongingness I had never realized before. A strength and a love for a generation past that instilled hope for the future. I felt connected.

As I talked with my grandmother, Grandpa began setting the table and preparing multiple place settings in the expectation that others would be joining us for dinner. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting dinner and was preparing to hike back to campus. However, my grandfather had different plans. After setting the table, he quickly dialed multiple telephone numbers on his rotary telephone. One by one he invited family and neighbors to our table for dinner—last minute, no expectations. “Just come as you are,” he said.

Before I knew it, the table was full of people that were important to my grandparents—neighbors, my aunt and uncle, my cousins.

Dinner that evening opened with a common Norwegian table prayer; we crossed our arms and held each other’s hands, squeezing ever so softly as if to pass strength to one another. After the table prayer, Grandpa welcomed everyone, said a few short words, and began to pass the simple, but warm Midwestern food around to each person. Conversations began; we laughed and raised our water glasses to toast life’s simplicities.

Little did I know, that would be the last supper I’d share with my grandparents, Harry and Helen Syvertson.

Looking back, I can’t remember what exactly we ate. Instead, I remember the people at the table, the sounds of laughter, of food being enjoyed, the “come as you are” spontaneity of the simple act of sharing a meal together after a busy work day. I remember and relish in the warmth and in the love of that late afternoon spring day.

From that moment on I’ve ventured out to soak in life’s simplicities. A shared meal. A simple, yet memorable event enjoyed not by the food that we eat, but instead celebrated by the presence of the people at our table.

Time is our most precious of commodities. Who we choose to celebrate that time with is the most important decision that we as human beings are privileged to make. The next time you sit down at your table, ask yourself this question:

Who would join me at this table if this were my last supper? Think about your response and make a promise to bring that moment to fruition. Truly, it will become one of the most precious moments of your life and will inspire you for years to come.   

A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, Arika Johnson now calls Devils Lake, North Dakota  home. She lives there with her twin five-year-old boys, Anders and Epenn, and her husband and number one cheerleader, Paul.