Autumn arrives, and I quietly say goodbye to another summer as I use up the last of the strawberries and raspberries that I had judiciously bagged and frozen in July to make fragrant batches of jam. We collect the last of the sweet tomatoes from our garden, along with crisp cucumbers and a couple of zucchini and we ogle the voluptuous pumpkins the color of autumn sunsets, soon to be turned into jam in their turn. We found a woman down on the edge of town who now carries wooden crates of purple and green figs to me that I will turn into jam.
I had my first piece, a very personal essay, published in The Washington Post and I am proud and thrilled. Funny, though, when I shared the news and the link on social media, many friends made the remark “This must have been a very difficult story to write.” Tending to my dying brother was indeed fraught with pain, but writing about it over the months and years that followed his death, was actually easy. As a writer, putting my emotions down on paper, black on white, was a way for me to confront my pain, organize the complex web of thoughts running amok in my brain and think through our last time together, a time filled with desperation and the weight of guilt. Those thoughts and emotions fell onto the page quickly and smoothly as if eager to find meaning and comfort.
Writing the essay was easy, even if it took years of writing and rewriting to arrive at the conclusion that I did, to feel as if it was complete. This essay allowed me a bit of solace and understanding and, most importantly, to see and capture a glimmer of light in a sea of darkness.
No, it was rather easy to write Feeding Michael. What was difficult was sending it out into the world. When we as writers publish a work on a public platform, all eyes are on it. We are now open to judgment and criticism. And when a piece is as personal, as intimate as Feeding Michael, if it doesn’t terrify us it at least makes us nervous, a bit uneasy, even if we are so moved and proud to have had it published. We want to protect our loved one exposed, we somehow hesitate, the desire to keep our memories of those last moments together all to ourselves. Our soul is bared to the scrutiny of the world, naked and raw.
But this essay uncovered something that we don’t write about often enough, we food writers, and so I am happy that it was published because it prompted a conversation. You see, most of what we food writers write about is the joy and pleasure of cooking and food, the discovery and adventure, the celebration and the coziness of food. But sometimes food, cooking with or for someone and nourishing them with big plates of this or small spoonfuls of that, is filled with desperation, pain, sadness, guilt, even if that desperation and pain is fueled by love.
Whether feeding a dying loved one in the privacy of our own kitchen or feeding the victims of hurricanes and floods who have lost their homes, belongings, even family, food does offer not just sustenance but relief, as well, relief and a sense of safety, respect, and love.
Food is a joy, a pleasure. But sometimes the experience of food is tainted by something horrific, by desolation and grief. Yet it still conveys a sense of love and security. Feeding another human being is the most basic instinct and is our first and our last bond with those whom we love, cooking for, feeding and nourishing another soul in silence, with a shared smile, eyes meeting, an expression of love.
Sometimes easy, sometimes difficult.