My Hypothetical Dinner Party

"If you could invite any five people throughout history over for a dinner party, who would they be and why?"

As one who has been involved in more than my share of small group ice-breaker situations, I feel qualified to say that this is a STUPID QUESTION.  I've always hated this question, because, who the heck knows!?

Seriously, all of history?  I can't decide where I want to eat in a town with 10 restaurants, so don't give me "every person ever to live in the course of human history" as a pool.  That's just ridiculous.

My answer to this classic form of conversational torture getting-to-know-you question used to change on a daily basis. There was no way of knowing whether my party du jour would come out sounding awesome or terribly lame.  I just opened my mouth and listed of a mish-mash of people I happened to find interesting at the moment.  At one point or another Bono, Ellen, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Oprah, Bill Cosby, Beethoven, Donald Miller, Shauna Niequist, Sigmund Freud, Elisabeth Elliot, and a number of presidents have all been on the list.  And Bill Gates, but just because I thought he might pick up the tab.  That is not a joke.

But this month I had a vision.  I had a vision of the liveliest, most inspiring, most enjoyable dinner party ever, and, for now at least, I feel committed to my five hypothetical guests.  So much so that today I'm writing out my list.  I might even laminate it, like Ross.

Here are my top 5, if I had to choose today:

Hillary Clinton: I am awed, AWED, by the wives of men in politics.  Obviously, Hillary isn't the wife of a man in politics anymore - she is The Freaking Secretary of State (official title).  And I bet that, along the way, Hillary has acquired some life stories that would shock us, move us, inspire us, challenge us, and make us downright indignant.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is from poet Muriel Rukeyser when she wrote, "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?  The world would be split open."  I believe that Hillary could split the world open.  I want to learn from her about bravery, ambition, idealism, politics, confidence, and assertiveness.  I want to learn from her about grace, forgiveness, and standing by your man when it hits the fan. I would like to see the "human" side of her - Hillary the woman, the mom, the person.  I totally want Hillary Clinton at my dinner party.

Britney Spears: I think that Britney Spears must be one of the strongest  women on the planet.  That might seem like a weird statement at first glance, because she is in a different "category" than most other women we think of when we hear the word "strong."  But I believe you'd be hard pressed to find another young woman who has picked up the pieces more times than Britney.  She's a fighter.  I can see the fight in her and I love it.  She has - amazingly - remained likeable and sweet through it all. Mostly, I believe Britney knows something of humility.  I believe she knows what it's like to be at rock-bottom,what it's like to need grace.  What's more, she knows what it's like for rock-bottom to be plastered on the cover of every magazine in America.  I want to learn from Britney about handling criticism and embarrassment, about forgiving yourself, about courage, about getting back up again and again and again.  Plus, she's completely adorable and fun.

Nora Ephron: I need Nora at my dinner party because she was pure talent.  She was THE MASTER of her trade, the quintessential example of skill meets years of practice, resulting in near perfection.  I just want to sit as close to her as possible and let osmosis do its work.  While her story of climbing the ranks of journalism as a woman in New York in the sixties is inspiring, I mostly want to burrow inside of her brain and listen to the inner voice that wrote "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless In Seattle," "You've Got Mail," and "Julie & Julia."  Her observation of humanity was spot on, her wit was razor sharp, her humor was fresh, intelligent, and warm.  I would love to learn voice and words and writing and disciplines from Nora, but I don't think we'd talk about that sort of thing over dinner.  I think I would just listen to her and laugh and that would be enough.

Tina Fey: I added Tina to my list a couple of months after reading her book, Bossypants.  When I picked it up, I knew it would be funny.  What I did not know is how often I would reflect back on the wisdom nestled between all the laughs.  I did not know how my impression of Tina would be altered, or perhaps expanded.  This funny little book changed the way I think about women in the workplace, or at least offered perspective and advice that I'd never heard from any other source.  Things like this:

“So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”

And this:

“Some people say, “Never let them see you cry.” I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.”

I would want Tina Fey at my dinner party for a couple of reasons.  1. She's funny.  She's not afraid of pop-culture references that are "too zany" or that people "might not get" (See also: 30 Rock). She's not afraid of self-deprecating humor.  She challenges me to be brave; if I think something is funny, throw it out there, even if it's scary.  Chances are someone else will like it, too.   2. She has the kind of wisdom you can only get from experience - from walking through it.  It doesn't sound polished or deep or inspired at first pass, but it's real - tried and true - and it's stuck with me.

Anne Lamott: I want Anne Lamott at my dinner party because she changed everything for me.  I don't know that I can say it better than Shauna did:

Picture a middle school gym, and picture me standing in line, kneeling in front of her table, fighting back tears as I said to her,“You changed everything for me.” Because she did.

...The year after I graduated from college, she wrote Traveling Mercies, and she connected the two worlds that I’d been jumping between without much grace or nuance: the Christian girl and the literature lover. The Christians I’d been raised by—with the exception of my mother—were not literature lovers. And the literature I’d loved and been raised by in a different way, was somewhere between dismissive and antagonistic toward my vein of faith. 

And then wait a minute, hold the phone: this writer I loved so deeply was now talking about faith—MY faith? And she was doing it, of course, in her way, in her smart, literary, poetic, irreverent, achingly honest way. I didn’t know you could do that.

It seems obvious now, now that we have Elizabeth Gilbert and Lauren Winner and loads of other great women writers talking about faith and life and everything else. But Anne Lamott, in my view, is the first, and the best, and the one we’re all paying homage to when we write about our faith in honest and unguarded ways, using humor and honesty to drop people’s defenses and invite them into the loveliness and the mess.

I want Anne Lamott at my dinner party because she pioneered. She is interesting and so wildly different from me in virtually every way, but I adore her, and I think her writing is just flawless.  It's true:  she changed everything for me.

This would be the theme of my dinner party: strong women.  Women who have gone before me, in all different arenas, and survived.  Careers that have survived, marriages that have survived, senses of humor that have survived.  Women like my grandmothers, who have carried their families through on their backs, multiplied what they were given, and scratched, clawed, cried, and willed things into existence with pure stubbornness and gumption.

I certainly don't think there would be a dull moment.


 Who would be at your hypothetical dinner party?  Share one, five, or twenty!