Hemingway's memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920's was a go-to read in preparation for my first trip to the City of Lights. The visit did not disappoint, and I quickly realized that the book is about so much more than a great city.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
Ernest Hemingway, to a friend, 1950
He tells of his time with fellow artists – musicians, writers, poets, painters – all part of a generation reeling from the impact of the Great War, finding themselves and coming of age. They are each very different, yet they are connected in spirit and supportive of one another – their work and their lives were richer by being part of this community.
In the literal sense, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines a feast as “an elaborate and unusually abundant meal often accompanied by a ceremony or entertainment”; and “something that gives unusual or abundant enjoyment”.
As I recently re-read this book and pondered its title, it occurred to me that this is a perfect description of time spent with my family by marriage, the Marchals.
Matt and I started dating at the end of high school. I had only met his immediate family and a couple of years later I was invited to join them for the holidays in Greenville, Ohio. His father came from a family of six siblings. Including Matt and his brother Andy, there are eleven first cousins. Add in spouses and significant others, and you get a pretty sizable group.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. I had never been away from my own family for the holidays, and I had mixed emotions – mostly excitement, a little anxiety (would they be sizing me up?) and some sadness as this would be different than previous years.
I walked into Uncle Bob and Aunt Pat’s house and immediately knew this was going to be special. With the smell of the orange bread, the barley soup on the stove for Christmas Eve dinner, the sounds of laughter, the warm smiles and generous hugs that were immediately offered, any anxiety I had quickly melted away. I couldn’t wait to meet everyone, and I was honored and excited to welcomed into this terrific family.
A little while later, while snacking and playing games, we heard a loud “BOOM”, quickly followed by a few more. The sound came from a giant bass drum, coming down the hall towards the back of the house. This was my introduction to Matt’s cousin Kelley. He brought not only this drum, but an entire bag of musical instruments, ranging from kazoos to castanets to tambourines – something for each of us. No one seemed terribly surprised by this, and all who had gathered at Bob and Pat’s quickly formed the inaugural Band of Pride.
The next morning (Christmas Day), we prepared for our march through Greenville to Uncle John and Aunt Joy’s house. Several curious neighbors came out to enjoy the show. When we arrived at our destination, we were joined by his cousin Mary with her glockenspiel to round us out.
Afterwards, we went inside to enjoy another amazing meal.
I realized that this was completely spontaneous, and yet completely normal, and I’ll never forget how I felt to be a part of it.
Food is consistently a core theme to Marchal gatherings (never ending one meal without speaking about the next one). We’ve had many great feasts in celebrating birthdays, holidays, weddings and the lives of those we have lost. Laughter and love have been constant any time we are together. Being a part of a community like this is priceless.
The culture we create as leaders and members of a team can also be a Moveable Feast. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are part of something larger than ourselves. Not all assignments are fun and exciting, but the people you are with and the way you work together can make all the difference. My favorite experiences in the workplace have been with leaders who bring teams together to do great things, and also make sure to have some fun along the way. Maybe the food wasn’t always memorable, but we had plenty of entertainment and enjoyment, and definitely laughter.
While the circumstances may vary, what remains consistent is the connection we have to one another. We have an opportunity every day to cultivate a culture of consistent and authentic appreciation for one another as individuals, with an inclusive and supportive environment to leverage our differences and celebrate our wins together. Good food helps too.
Over the years, I’ve had many more great times with the Marchals, who have graciously brought the Kennedys into the fold. With or without a holiday to celebrate; there is always laughter, food, and family. Even when we can’t physically be together, we are always with each other in spirit, and for that I am forever grateful.
This entry is dedicated to the memory of my father-in-law, Dick Marchal. He exemplified leadership and in his personal and professional life. He challenged us and championed us. He never stopped learning and finding ways to laugh. Our most recent memories with him were of course, sharing a great meal. Here’s to "Blue Skies and 75" – forever.
I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas for creating your own Moveable Feast – please share in the comments below!