If ever the great unknown should provide a sliding board into its waiting mouth, the words “what if” might be the metal from which the board is built.
What if I had married that guy David that my parents tried to arrange for me? My life would have been so different. Air Force bases all over the world. Babies, maybe five or six. Church every Sunday just like when I grew up.
There would have been no opportunities to have the exciting adventures and to meet the glorious people that are in my life. I would have been — like my mother — an unhappy and unfulfilled woman following someone else’s definition of duty.
What if I had avoided those two carpal tunnel surgeries — two weeks in succession? Could I have avoided what I presume was the infection that led to Guillain Barre Syndrome and then CIDP?
What if I had followed a childhood dream to totally serve God by becoming a nun or a monk? (Stop laughing.) What would my life have been? Have I missed something in not following that pull? Truthfully, no. I don’t think so. For I have embraced a monk’s life in street clothing— with partying on the side.
These thoughts played in my mind like angry bees. The problem was that I was trying to meditate.
I’ve been blessed with a fairly upbeat nature; positive and very on the edge of Pollyanna. I’ve been held in the palm of Spirit, generous with protection. It’s rare that I swim in the murky puddles of what feels like regret. And so, I was surprised by the forest of thoughts and the blossoms of “what ifs” in my mind. I had to get out of the woods. I got up and took a sharp detour. I wanted to focus on something mellow. Something more sunny-Sunday afternoon like.
What if I just enjoyed the day?
So I went to a place that brings me endless delight and feels so ever like home. The kitchen.
When I was in the skilled nursing facilities, the occupational therapists there kept wanting me to practice my cooking skills by making boxed brownies. Excuse me? One of them actually told me I might never again cook the way I like to cook. She expressly said that my creativity in the kitchen would be limited to maybe 20% of what I had done before. I was enraged.
With exercises that consisted of picking up marbles , flipping over playing cards, bouncing little balls back and forth, and squeezing putty, there was no way I would ever strengthen my hands enough to peel an orange. The bar was set so low that anyone, with any dreams at all or hopes for recovery, could be discouraged. And this was why I released the full force of my anger. She left the room to find the facility administrator.
“Don’t you ever minimize my abilities!”
“I don’t care what the insurance companies say. I’m in charge of my healing. You’re in charge of function. And baking box brownies is not function.”
“Don’t ever tell me what I will not be able to do!”
And so, revved up by the memory of my rant against people who want to enshrine human limitation and, stung, in my meditation, by the angry bees of regret, I went to my kitchen.
Have I shared with you my memories of the kitchen? About the love I experienced in the warmth and smell of my grandparents’ and my mother’s kitchens. I probable have. I come from a lineage of culinary talent that is among the best of cooking royalty. We don’t need awards. We just eat. Relatives of all shapes and sizes were and are masters at their stoves and ovens.
All four of my grandparents, and their families, thrived within the abundant generosity of the South Eastern soil. From the wildlife in the rural woods to the fruit trees, vines, and produce they grew to raising livestock, they were the creators of the life we watch nostalgically on television shows today. I loved watching both grandmothers knead dough; their rich, dark hands against the white flour that soon become biscuits lighter than the air that I breathe.
We were raised organic. My mother has told me that when pesticides were becoming popular my grandfather refused to use them. He said that whatever was put in the ground would be taken in by the plant, and we would eat the plants and ingest the pesticides. So. We squeamishly picked fat worms and bugs from our collards and cut them from our apples instead. The meals were delicious.
So that Sunday, to still the buzzing bees of thoughts, I went to my refrigerator and pulled out mushrooms, ginger, almond milk, butter, and onions. And I made the best cream of mushroom soup ever. These are testy–and tasty–times. Being able to cook is a healing gift.
“What if you’re never able to cook like you did before?” she had challenged. Then she ran from my rage.
Good. I had stuffed the blasted genie back into the bottle. As other patients and therapists looked on, I puffed out my chest. And she — the harbinger of low expectations — vanished from my presence.
Blasting away the threat of limitation. Chasing away the angry bees of regret, doubt, and speculation. What if I lived my life this way every day?
Happy Cinco de Mayo!