IN THIS ISSUE
Everyone needs to eat. Not all of us need to cook.
For those who do, though, the urge can feel as visceral as a hunger pang. There are times when weeks fly past without a single chance to really make something. Weeks when nearly every meal is eaten in a restaurant, arrives on the back of a delivery person's bike, or consists of a bowl of Fage with a spoonful of jam mixed in. There's nothing really wrong with any of those options (trust me on the jam thing — it's delicious), but there is something missing.
I love to eat the things I cook, of course, but almost more than that, I love to make them. I find solace in the soothing rhythm of the prep work, my knife slicing gracefully through an onion or pile of herbs. I find comfort in the soft thump my oven makes as I open and close it and delight in the ease that's come into my life since I invested in a thermometer to take the actual temperature inside. I love thinking a bit about what's on hand — this weekend, it was half a squash, a head of garlic, and some cheese — and building a meal around it.
Phillip Larkin ends his poem “An Arundel Tomb” with the line “what will survive of us is love.” Lately, when I consider this line I do so from the perspective of a teacher struggling to adequately process school violence and it stirs a lot of questions in my mind. As tragedies becomes more commonplace in schools, I think on this idea and wonder, if love is what survives us when we are gone, then what is it that will sustain us while we are here? How can we learn take better care of one another and ourselves in order to rebuild our communities in the wake of such violence?
My answers to these questions have been hard to come by. In the days following these tragedies, when I look upon my students and wonder about their hearts my mind quickly returns to my duties that “matter:” adequately preparing these children for college, teaching them strong writing skills, and ensuring overall rigor of their educational experience. However, this denial of my very human impulse to consider and support my students’ emotional wellbeing is unnatural. It registers as a sort of trained resistance to deny the human in me for the sake of what has been defined as “productivity.” Yet, if we hope to cultivate and nourish communities that resist violence, and if we hope to find a way to sustain compassionate communities, then we must communicate our questions and fears openly rather than confusing notions of success with silence.
All We Need to Know About Dinner and Divinity
Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is one of those favorite books of mine that I haven’t finished yet. I’d like to make it to the end one day, but I’m certainly not in a hurry. I’m savoring it bit by bit, with full confidence that the author herself would approve of my slow read. It’s a book I know I’ll keep returning to even after I’ve finished it, much like the simple, beautiful thought at the heart of the book itself---that the end of every meal is the beginning of another. It’s a book that deserves, in my opinion, a genre of its own. I’ve never read anything like it. It’s not a cookbook or an instruction manual or a food memoir. I’d say it’s a sort of philosophy of food.
A browse through the table of contents is enough to make you cry: “How to Catch Your Tail,” “How to Paint Without Brushes,” “How to Light a Room,” “How to Make Peace,” “How to Build a Ship,” “How to Be Tender,” “How to Weather a Storm,” “How to End.”
You’d think it’s a book about food, and it is, but it is also a book about everything. Adler will start you off with an egg, then catapult you into the heavens, and finally bring you back down decidedly onto the earth. For example: “A gently but sincerely cooked egg tells us all we need to know about divinity. It hinges not on the question of how the egg began, but how the egg will end. A good egg, cooked deliberately, gives us a glimpse of the greater forces at play.”
“So there is a girl sleeping in the front room,” I hear my grandmother whisper to my grandfather. “Did you know that?” I listen through a cracked door. She has just said goodnight to me very warmly, despite the fact that I am mostly a stranger to her these days. The room I am staying in is a blank walled cube with a vaulted ceiling and three big windows. In the mornings I wake when the sun comes in, when it is quiet and bright. The shape of the space reminds me of a hamster carrying crate, the cardboard kind you’d get at a pet store. Four straight walls, a milk carton style top. The ever present sense of fascination and fear I feel while staying in this room makes me feel a strange kinship with those small furry creatures. Bewildered. Alert. In this house I feel wonder at all the new things I see, and also a heart pounding anxiety in facing the unknown.
My grandparents both have Alzheimer's Disease. My grandmother is further along than my grandfather. I have recently been recruited to spend weekends with them so their regular home health aide can take time off. Their regular caregiver is a beautiful woman who moves through their home with grace and kindness, who tiptoes through the land mines of potential conflict as though it were her sixth sense. Instead of correcting, she redirects. Instead of asking "don't you remember?" she slips into their world and accepts their state of being. This is only my second weekend, and so far I have stepped on plenty of land mines. I have, for example, identified myself as their granddaughter, to which they say, defensively: Of course you are, we know that! Now I've learned to say it less directly, more casually. And I usually add: Well, you have so many, it's hard to keep track of us all. A concession which they gladly take.
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