ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: THE POWER OF A TABLE

Today we have the great honor of introducing you to James Decker - a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas (pop. 2,984), and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He's also an influential advocate for the future of rural America. Each Monday he'll be providing his Monday Musing on our blog, and to say we're excited would be an understatement. James may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Welcome, James!

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The surprising recent death of Anthony Bourdain brought a couple of topics into focus for me that I feel called to write about today. A celebrity chef, author, television host, and adventurer, Bourdain traveled the world finding the best of food, drink, and people in places that most Americans never get to visit. He seemingly had a dream life, until his troubles overtook him. His passing is a stark reminder that anyone can have struggles, no matter how magical their life seems to be. If a man who got to travel the world eating, drinking, and meeting interesting people still struggled with his life, there’s no shame in “regular” folks like us having our own struggles.

That’s my hope and prayer for anyone who reads this. If you are struggling in life, whether in passing dark clouds or prolonged difficulties, don’t be afraid, ashamed, or hesitant to tell someone. Talk to a friend or family member, or if you are hesitant to do that, talk to me. On the flip side, don’t be hesitant to reach out to others and ask how they’re doing. Check on them. Send them an uplifting message. Be a friend. Life can be hard and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. We’re all in this life together and we’re all going to stumble in the race here and there. When we’re able to do so, we should look to help that brother or sister who is stumbling and pick them up until they can get back to running on their own.

Anthony Bourdain had a vision of food that is on my mind and this opens up something I want to discuss in more detail next week. Men’s Journal wrote that Bourdain’s showed the unifying power of food—“how a shared meal can break barriers, challenge assumptions, and build bridges.” Bourdain himself told NPR that the best way for people to understand each other is over a meal. He said, “if you sit down with people and just say, ‘hey, what makes you happy? What’s your life like? What do you like to eat?’ More often than not, they will tell you extraordinary things, many of which have nothing to do with food.”

That unifying power of food is on my mind today. Anthony Bourdain showed it in a worldwide basis, but how powerful can it be in our local communities? If we’re honest, unless we’re Mayberry (spoiler alert, we’re not), then each of our communities has some form of division to overcome. Whether reckoning with a segregated past or dealing with recent political tensions, there are bridges to cross in our communities. Crossing these bridges will bring together our people into a single unifying purpose, growing our community for a prosperous future.

More on this topic is coming in the future, but maybe sharing a meal is the way we start to bring our communities together as one.

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