Last night my husband and I had a night out for dinner in the heart of Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood (“where fashionable Minneapolis residents live, work and play”). He had an agenda; he wanted to get his knife sharpened at The Kitchen Window, his new favorite haunt. We have visited the store twice this week already. The store happens to be in Calhoun Square where one of his favorite restaurants, Chang Mai Thai, is also located. We decided that Thai food twice in one week might be a bit much and that we might be getting into a food rut, so we thought it would be a good chance to branch out. We drove up and down Lake Street, consulted Google on his phone, and finally set out on foot in search of the perfect dinner. After reading the menus at two Italian restaurants and walking more than we had anticipated, we “settled” on the Uptown Cafeteria.
Using my phone to take the picture of the entrance to the restaurant did not capture one phrase in its name, “and support group.” It is a good thing that I took a picture of the menu as well! I have now done a bit of reading about the restaurant online, and there seems to be no precise explanation for the “support group” part of the title except that it wants to be the place where everyone wants to be, where you run into people you know, and “where everybody knows your name” (like Cheers in the 80s and 90s).
This, of course, started a think in me. What is a support group and what is its draw?
Support groups have been around for a long time. Alcoholics Anonymous may be the first official support group; however, we need to recognize that support groups existed before them. Groups have gathered over the centuries around a common cause – canning, quilting, harvesting, and worshiping. Looking online or in newspapers, we can find a dozen or more support groups now for all kinds of struggles or common interests. Any group coming around each other to provide support, whether intentionally or unintentionally, could be considered a support group. There are too many too name with issues and causes as varied as we are as people. Our needs are great; our need for support seems to be as great.
The draw of support groups seems obvious to some and perplexing to others. It may be slightly stereotypical to say this, but men seem to shy away from support groups until they have nowhere else to turn. In an effort to seem like they can handle the world and all of what it throws their way, support groups – even unofficial groups – do not flourish in a men only scenario. In Christian circles, this seems very evident when one looks at the number of women’s Bible studies in comparison to men’s Bible studies. The women are not more spiritual, nor are they more hungry to learn; they simply see the Bible studies as a place where commonality can be found, and that draws women in whereas it seems to push men out.
Some of us want to commiserate and rehash with others who know how we feel or at least have gone through a similar circumstance. The need to realize we are not alone in our struggles and, honestly, that we are not unique are huge needs in our lives. We want to know that others know our name and that they know our struggles. Looking to others in our times of great need seems quite natural. We often gain encouragement from the fact that they are successfully past whatever struggle it was, and sometimes hints or advice are helpful so that we can skip over some of the pain.
While I am somewhat opposed to the commercialization or taking advantage of the knowledge that we all need a place to go and be known, I think that this restaurant at least acknowledges this need in our lives. To be honest, though, I did not feel particularly known by anyone in the restaurant except my husband. I suppose if I spent hours and hours sitting at the bar and talking to other people sitting there, I might eventually feel known by those people – at least the bartender. This does highlight a phenomenon in our society that I find very strange.
Why would we seek this close “knowing” in a place like a bar or restaurant rather than in our homes, our churches, and our friendships? Why do we close out those who are in relationship with us day to day and hide from them that which is the most difficult to say out loud?