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As pandemic restrictions ease, the simple joy of dinner parties has returned.

As I mentioned in a column a couple of weeks ago, July has brought us to the midpoint of the year, a good time to consider where we’ve been and where we’re going.

It’s in that spirit that I’ve been thinking about last New Year’s Day, which didn’t seem for me the most cheerful start for 2021. The afternoon before, on New Year’s Eve, I’d undergone outpatient surgery that would leave me laid up for a few days. My wife and I often share the last evening of the year with another married couple we’ve known for ages. Given my convalescence, we knew this holiday would be different. Even if I had been well, though, pandemic restrictions made it impractical to entertain company beyond our household.

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As a nice consolation, our traditional New Year’s Eve buddies left an encouraging note and plate of treats at our doorstep. It was a lovely gesture that kindled our hope for the time when we could be at the same table again.

That day came earlier this month as we reconnected with our friends over the Fourth of July weekend. Now that we’re all vaccinated, they had graciously invited us over for dinner, and it seemed, in the middle of a challenging year, that we were finally turning an important page.

On a stormy Saturday evening, as filled ditches and flooded streets reminded us again of the tired too-muchness of the times, we drove to our friends’ house and found warmth and encouragement just beyond the threshold.

The house was spacious, but in a nod to a long Louisiana tradition, we did much of our visiting in the kitchen. We hugged each other, and out of practice with the simple miracle of human embrace, we hugged each other again, then again.

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Hunger eventually drove us to the dining room, where we savored shrimp over rice, cornbread still warm from the oven, blackberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream. We also savored many old stories, a few of them even true.

The prospect of Fourth of July gatherings is what official Washington promised us a few months ago as a dividend of widespread vaccination for COVID-19. Vaccination rates are still too low, and a global pandemic is not yet over. But thanks to scientific progress, many of us were able to mark this month’s holiday weekend with a wider circle of people we love.

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It was a bright spot in a summer that has brought its share of grim tidings. Problems abound, and there’s a spirit of soul-searching across the country, a sense that familiar bonds are broken and need repair. I wish that I were wise enough to know how to fix everything.

What I do know is that the ties that bind us often start around a dinner table. It was good to break bread with friends again, and I want more of it.

Email Danny Heitman at danny@dannyheitman.com.