It’s a snowy day in February 2021. I am complaining. January 2020 was the beginning of a year that I could never have imagined.
At the end of that month, I was sharing a home-baked, red velvet birthday cake with friends. I had just turned 72, and the celebration deserved one of my friend Bob’s elegant cakes.
“Oh my God!”
Vinny checked his cell phone and put his beverage down. The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and their friends, had fallen out of the sky. Bryant had been a beloved local personality, and it felt like the air was sucked out of the room. As we pivoted from celebration to sorrow, I could hardly believe that, once again, we were looking at the sudden death of a vibrant man known for his devoted support of young people, while some of the meanest, vilest politicians in our country seemed impervious to death.
Bryant’s death began a traumatizing year, one that would test the heartiest among us. A month later, as the stories about a new virus began to dominate the media, people hunched their shoulders and started wearing masks. My friends and I were asking, “How can we elect a new president?” because we were sure he’d caused the problem in the States. To answer this question, I participated in activities to get people out to vote.
I released my home health aide after she told me I was “overthinking” the virus, and fretted for a bit about all the tasks I would have to take on. Now alone, with no one visiting my home, I did what it made sense to do when humanity seems out of control: I turned to nature, to the trees in the forest across the road.
While the television droned in the background and I chopped celery and onions into cubes, maybe for a salad, or mashed potatoes, or perhaps, a lentil shepherd’s pie, I wondered out loud to the trees: Is it self-indulgent to write food stories?
Colorful bowls overflowing with fruit were testimony to the beauty of living in a global world: oranges from South Africa. Apples from New Zealand. Avocados from Mexico. Blueberries from Peru. And tomatoes…ahhh. Beautiful Canada.
I prayed that my anger would not affect the food. You see, I believe this to be the truth: whatever my mood, that energy goes directly from my mind and heart to my arms to my hands and into the food. I did not want to eat these negative vibrations.
Oh, the trees. My relationship with trees is mysterious. I watch them as if they are my children. From the first buds of spring to the death of their leaves when they are bombarded by sleet and buffeted by the wind, they are my constant companions. I “feel” them speak to me. Before you shake your head in pity, listen.
Several years ago, I lived next to a city park, which gave my second-floor apartment the feeling of being in a treehouse. Many years before that, I lived in an apartment along the Willamette River in Oregon. Trees surrounded the apartment. There have always been the trees.
One morning, during meditation in my “treehouse” apartment, I heard a message inside my heart.
“Don’t worry. We are your protection.”
I believed then, and I do now, that the spirit of the trees spoke to me.
The year rolled on, and on May 25, I watched as a reptile in human skin – sworn to protect the public – put his knee on a man’s neck and stared into the camera for eight minutes and 46 seconds. He did not remove his knee until George Floyd was dead.
The raindrops on the trees outside my window clung to the branches like tears. I cried too. In July I posted about police abuses. I did not write about food. Would we ever again find joy?
2020 dragged on. Christmas was, thankfully, quiet. No guests. No poultry or stuffing. No hand-crafted pie. New Year’s eve, without the college students across the way, was still. There was no disturbance of fireworks. More than 300,000 people had died from the virus. I thanked God that 2020 was over and that we had a new president.
January 1, 2021, I received a phone call. My 90-year-old uncle died that morning from COVID-19. I did not cook the New Year black eye peas called Hoppin’ John, I didn’t make collard greens laced with onions, garlic, and turkey wings. I did not bake cornbread. Instead, I contemplated his being the last in a generation of maternal elders, and what it meant to lose them.
On January 6, terrorists staged an insurrection against the United States. They breached the United States Capitol Building. They terrorized police officers, defecated and urinated in offices, stole items. They searched for legislators and the Vice-President with assassination intentions. These criminals wanted to disrupt the certification of legitimate election results and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. They failed.
I recognized a Truth. As we struggle to make it through these times – and we will struggle – we have to eat; we must find joy. Although for many of us, our food stories will not be found around the table, we will have joyful stories to share. Through the miracle of technology, folks are learning new recipes, discovering new winter soups, baking new breads. A friend is making homemade yogurt, canning and pickling, and sharing these experiments through video technology. We’ll continue to bake Cornish hens and roast chickens. And we’ll brunch Zoom with buddies over the weekend.
I looked out at my snow-covered trees with the answer. Food is what we need to live. Joy makes us resilient. Stories are what give us joy. It is not self-indulgent to write about food.