Category Archives: Gratitude

Breaking My Sound Barrier, Singin’ In The Kitchen

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Chop. Breathe. Chop. Breathe.

Sing out loud. Swing those hips.

There was a time when original songs flew out of my mouth like candy from a broken pinata.  Not so much anymore. I’ve projected that energy into my kitchen. I put the rhythms into my knives. I put the results on my hips.

Chop, chop, chop. Breathe.

The collard greens disintegrate under the blade. They become two-inch, then one, then quarter-inch strips. The strips are almost mashed as they reach the size of popcorn kernels.

What do I plan to do with these greens? Part of the mound will be put in a salad. I’m supposed to be eating more raw food. Part of them will be juiced or blended into a green smoothie with pineapple, banana, blueberries, and flaxseed. That smoothie is one of the best parts of my day. I’ll throw the remainder into a pot with spices so expertly added that no one on the planet would miss the ham hocks or turkey wings. That’s how good I am.

But no one except me will taste these collards. The last fifteen months of COVID restrictions and lockdowns put a harness on the joy of sharing food with my friends. Of all things, this lack of sharing has been a particular sadness for me. However, the isolation has been an easy and welcome ride. So much so that I’m going to continue to isolate even as restrictions are loosened.

I spent many years with an ashram, engaging in spiritual practices like silence, practices that left me feeling comfortable being alone. And I was alone during the lockdown. With no family in the area, without visits from friends, and unable to have neighbors drop-in, I had no one to whom I could feed the homemade sushi rolls and blueberry muffins.

So what did I do during this long, quiet time? I watched food shows on Netflix. I became the online ordering maven, increasing my share of sheets, shoes, and groceries. I read food memoirs. I saved a lot of money not having to put gas in my car because there was nowhere to go. I’ve been writing, working on a book, a meandering path but one that keeps me uplifted. I discovered Zoom.

And, last but not least, I’ve had time to think about all the things my younger me wanted. I had time to do this, right? She wanted to learn how to dance ballet. (To this day, I literally get goosebumps at the sight, feel, and smell of leotards and tights.)

She thought she wanted to marry and have (whoa, Nellie!!!) eight children. 

That young girl thought she would live on a farm. Is there anything more magical than watching life springing from life over and over again?

As an empathic child, I struggled ─ too much ─ to repress my nature. Obstacles of poverty and racism pulled me away from the things I loved: music, poetry, dance. Making the world a better place.

The family holiday gatherings and church picnics, generous with the best of our gardens, farms, and cooking intelligence, only increased my feelings of love for humanity and allowed my empathy to surge. We sang. We fed each other.

Over the years, and all the things and worlds I’ve dabbled in, I’ve come to realize that cooking is a great love. This was never made more clear than during the past year and one half of my COVID safety lifestyle.

The farming thing? Well, I created that in a different form. I have an indoor hydroponic garden for herbs and small vegetables like cherry tomatoes.

I don’t feel alone.

If a camera had been placed on the cubicles above my microwave, it might have caught me dancing. It might have heard me singing a jazz tune by Sarah Vaughn or a folk song by Joni Mitchell. It certainly would have caught me shaking my behind to Sly and the Family Stone (outing my age) or old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll while chopping those collards. It might have found me listening to hymns of Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food. With tens of millions going without food, I am grateful to the bone for these greens.

Chop. Breathe. Shake my behind. Sing. Living a version of my younger self’s dreams.

Those collards were good.

Thanksgiving 2018

 

Three of us, our personalities as diverse as the meal we shared, sat around the table laughing and celebrating food, company and, each in her own way, a commitment to spiritual life.

 

“Will you give the blessing?”

Wait, what? 

The meal was at my home and, when I thought about it later, the host usually offers the blessing. In recent years, however, I’d fallen into a habit of silent blessings ─ or no blessing at all ─ over meals with friends.

We closed our eyes.  I opened one eye to peek at Sandra. She was the one, after all, who had asked for the blessing. She was — waiting.

I am not unfamiliar with saying grace. Praying before eating was a three-times-a-day practice in my childhood. Not a crumb would pass our lips before prayer. To attempt to sneak a bite was, at the very least, foolhardy. A spoon or fork could be sent flying if a child did not wait for the Lord’s blessing.

I remember my grandfather saying grace. He was a deacon and a very devout man who would repeat a prayer before every meal. The morning grace was the hardest. We’d listen patiently as he spoke the familiar lines before beginning his improvisation. His improvising, it should be known, was the place where hot food went to die — to become cold. But here’s the thing: his purity of heart and love for God was on that table. We could feel protection covering the food. His power was that palpable. Even as, in our minds eye, we could see the melted butter hardening again, we also knew that no malevolent force would dare approach our food. Granddaddy had a spiritual power that drew God’s protection for his family.

Saying grace is not a mystery. The willingness to be present and grateful for the present moment draws the power.

With Sandra’s request, I tried to remember the grace my parents used to say.

“Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food to nourish the body though not the soul…” And that was all I could remember. It felt too far in the past.

When I was diagnosed with Guillain Barré syndrome (GBS) in 2012, the disease took away my ability to use my hands. I love cooking and sharing my meals with others. It’s a joyful task. But with GBS, I could not comb my hair, let alone knead dough, chop vegetables, or make a soup.

That too is now in the past. Today, I can make biscuits, roast a turkey, and or juice apples. And I can look back on 2018 and see blessings in everything, large and small: my physical healing; my mothers’ death and reconnecting with estranged family; new friends and neighbors; the ever expanding awareness of love in the world even as citizens panic in and recoil from the vortex of Trumpism; and still, the wonder of being grateful.

The instant I connected with gratitude, self-consciousness dropped away.

“Thank you, father/mother God, for this meal to which we have all contributed. Thank you for this glorious abundance of friendship that we are about to share. And thank you, most of all, for that which has brought us together in gratitude on this day. Amen.”

Sandra was pleased.

“Let’s eat.”