Friday, October 10, 2008

The Healing

Although there is no sun in my kitchen, I have a shadow today. A big, furry shadow. I've spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen this morning making pancakes, chicken noodle soup, sandwiches and coffee. My dog has learned that when I am there--especially if I'm chopping vegetables--that I tend to be generous. He lingers. Not annoyingly, but just close enough to make his presence known and difficult to ignore. We have connected this way, through food.

When I was younger and I was stressed out, I would write. As I got into my 30s, cleaning would do the trick to relieve my angst. Now, though, anxiety drives me into the kitchen. Banana bread, vegetable risotto, chili, carrot soup, meatloaf, biscuits... nothing is off limits. If it's cool, I'll bake (the kids love my winter stress because it always means more cookies for them). If it's warmer, I'll do something different for dinner. And if we already have plenty of food for dinner, I'll cook for the freezer.

This week, I lost an uncle to cancer. It came as a surprise, as the updates we were getting from Tennessee seemed to indicate that he was improving. I immediately began looking up flights, talking to my parents about hotels and arranging for the children's schedules while I'd be gone for the funeral.

But it didn't work out that way. As any mother knows, you can be very organized and tend to all of the details, but sometimes that is not enough. My husband, who would have had to care for the children for the days I'd be gone, had a schedule that could not allow it to happen. I changed my research to flowers and food baskets, and sent them in lieu of myself in a feeble hope that my sentiments would be felt despite my absence.

I was resigned to the situation and kept in touch with family during the week as they travelled and condoled. But something in me remained unsettled. I needed to be there for someone, and I couldn't. I needed to hug my aunt and my father, to tell them how sorry I am, but it was impossible. The result was a burst of cooking fervor.

Out came the cookbooks, pots and ingredients. I began baking breads for my children. On the stove simmered a pot of chili for a neighbor whose wife is in the hospital. Next to it bubbled several quarts of chicken noodle soup. For whom, I do not know. But I had to make it. I had to be ready to offer it, to nurture someone with it, to give. It was my way of reaching out and connecting, of resolving the gap between the grief I couldn't share and the comfort I couldn't offer.

For decades, physicists have studied general relativity and quantum mechanics, all the while searching for the mathematical language, or common syntax, that will unify them. It is an ongoing quest to explain how big things, like planets and stars, and tiny things, like particles, are all connected. They continue to seek the link to this day.

This week, cooking became the common syntax for me, the bridge by which I sought to cross from emptiness to fulfillment. My aim was to ease my aching heart, and the hearts of those whom I could not reach, by caring for those I could. I will probably never know if the positive energy I put into my little dishes somehow wafted into the great space that surrounds us all, if it somehow reached and embraced my loved ones. All I can do is carry on, continue to cook, and hope that for some--and eventually for me--it will be enough.

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