No. Not THAT chair. I’m not writing about that scene in the Tom Hanks / Michael Clarke Duncan film “The Green Mile”. And who can forget Clint Eastwood’s monologue as he spoke to an empty chair during a recent political campaign season? Nope. Not that chair either; although the chair I’m thinking of is also empty, but for a different reason. The head of an organization or corporation is often called “The Chair” (short version of chairman or chairwoman and conveniently gender neutral) but I’m not writing about organizational leadership.
The reasons a chair might be empty are numerous. When the chair is empty because someone passed into eternity, just the sight of that chair can cause deep emotional pain. Sometimes, a chair at the table is empty because a family member went off to college or took a job far from home. Sometimes estrangement or divorce creates an empty chair. Poets have written about empty chairs and songwriters have addressed empty chairs as well.
Honor is often paid in remembrance to a loved one who is missing from a gathering. When the Tall Ships gather for an event, a ship that has lost a member of her crew will tow an empty dinghy astern to represent the missing crew member. Air wings from the various branches of the armed forces often fly a tribute formation known as the “missing plane” to signify a life lost from the unit. Mounted cavalry parade a horse without a rider for the same reason.
At our house, we have some missing family members when we gather around our table; family members we wish were still there with us. We also miss friends who used to join us for meals when we lived far from where we are now. I got to thinking about how I could remember and honor these people and not just with heartache; not just symbolically. I wanted to do something tangible and positive; something with some impact; something that would turn an empty chair at our table into a good thing – even an inspirational thing.
During our Advent Devotions the other night, I presented an idea to our family for discussion and consideration. What if we bought a spare chair and squeezed it in at our table? “The Chair” could represent possibility, hope and intention. The empty chair would be a visible reminder that someone isn’t here. But what someone? Who? We talked about the possibility for hospitality because there would now be a place for a guest to sit. The idea also came up to put one of our baskets in the chair and use it to hold clothing items we were planning to donate to the Salvation Army. The chair could also be a place to hang canvas bags to hold books destined for the book cellar at the New Castle Public Library. The chair could even hold the box for the First Sunday food donation items that First Presbyterian Church sends to the City Rescue Mission’s food pantry. Something as simple as a chair could be a social machine!
I understand an empty chair at the table can be a painful reminder, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to create something powerfully positive; an opportunity to change one’s perspective, and maybe someone else’s life. Our family agreed to try this idea. When that chair arrives, we’re going to have to tell the cats “Sleep somewhere else. We have big plans for that empty chair!”
© 2016 Curt Savage Media