As a follow-up thought on my post yesterday… We say, and I said “life is ours for the taking.” But clearly this has a dangerous, double entendre, which I tried to address with some poetry and by turning the idea around. Here are some more thoughts on that…
Let us say that “Life is ours for the making!”
Grab it, seize it, embrace it, hold it, hold on to it, milk it, live it, love it, be it.
Don’t take life. Don’t take a life, don’t take your life, don’t take your life for granted.
Make your life. Use it to live and love and experience and learn.
Learn from every place and every person and every experience.
This is what Anthony Bourdain did. Let us follow in that path.
Ben Zoma would say: “Who is wise? One who learns from every man.”
(Pirkei Avos 4:1)
Things used to roll of my shoulders. I was the guy who probably bugged people because I was always so positive. Nothing seemed to bother me… I was easily able to roll with the punches. Now those same shoulders are weighted down, hunched over with aches and pains, stress and tensions. The longer we live, the more that we see… the more good, the more bad.
I never knew what depression was. Now I get it. I understand what it means to pull the sheets over your head and not want to get up out of bed. The simple joys of warm water blanketing your body in the shower become a liquid wall to hide behind… to keep you from starting your day. Shower doors become prison gates of our own making. The longer we linger in the soothing morning sea, the less time we have to spend in reality… in the world.
This is not every day for me… It’s still rare, thankfully. But the fact that I have more than one day like this is a very different thing for me. I don’t recall lever having any. Granted, that was mostly in youth, but still…
I understand the switch that can be turned on and off. Though it takes so much effort sometimes. The incredible energy it takes to be social, and the sheer exhaustion we feel when we get home, alone, having faked our way through humor and entertainment… all performed as the mind wonders who sees through my charade, who understands my pain. We fall into bed, breathless and mentally empty, yet contemplating so many questions… and yet we get up the next morning, either with a brighter outlook or in a panic. Breathe… breathe…
We grab onto platitudes and expressions… meditations and chants… analogies, anything to put our brains back on the path of happiness. Self help, self empowerment. We turn to meditation and religion, rabbis and pastors, friends and family… if we’re lucky. Others turn to drugs and booze, sex and escape. We try to hide, but at some point we’ll slip… let it out… and if it has been suppressed for too long, it can come out in a violent flush and rush of emotion and anger.
The Oxygen Mask
It’s been said a lot… so maybe it’s a cliché. Though with all clichés, there is a deep truth behind their meaning and creation. It is why they exist in repeated perpetuity.
So here is this one… In order to help and save others, you MUST put your oxygen mask on first. This may be seem counterintuitive for a parent, whose desire would be to protect their children first and foremost… But if you pass out, what good can you do? In practicality, it makes perfect sense… protect yourself so you can help others. But the lesson goes deeper.
In order to truly love another, you MUST love yourself first. If you have no love for yourself, what love do you truly have to give? Giving yourself to another means giving YOURSELF to another. There has to be a self. Selfless means SELF LESS… We do not want to be selfish… but we have to have a SELF…
In order to give to another, there must be something to give… there must be a YOU, as fully formed and complete as possible. Do not look to others to fix you and fill you, for that is not what love is.
Human beings have a desperate need to answer “why?” It is what keeps us going, though I suppose not getting the answer might very well be what plunges us into the depths of despair.
For a fighter, what happens when the fight takes flight? When courage evades us?
While the outside sees suicide as a selfish release, sometimes those in the dark see it as a selfless act… releasing others from the troubles and burdens they believe they would cause them.
Being a caregiver is not easy, but giving care is what makes us human. Let us each decide what we can and cannot do. We should not be ashamed to ask for help when we need it. And for those in need of care, there are those who want to give it. Let them try to help you. The key is to try… to try to find the answers and solutions together… To talk and plan and connect.
Do not bury your burdens, but cast them outwards. You will find support. It’s out there.
Life is a restaurant, a collaboration, a rotating Lazy Susan that stops in front of all of us at least once, allowing us to take from the communal plate, to lead and to share, and to then keep the circle moving to the next person. On and on and on.Sometimes we cook, sometimes we prep and sometimes we wash the dishes. What Anthony Bourdain taught us is that food is the great equalizer… and while more Michelin stars may shine on the elegant and complex and sophisticated, far more stars of the night sky shine on a food stall in a far off land… a night market…
Ingredients and technique may be different, but the passion to please is the same.
Life is a picnic. A blanket spread across soft grass, filled with homemade goodies and friends and lovers. A colorful square set on uneven sand. These are the meals we’ll remember. A PB&J becomes the meal of a lifetime in the right place, with the right people.
An avocado sliced and sprinkled with salt and lime juice can be as soul satisfying as a foie gras foam sauce from a master chef, practiced in the art of molecular gastronomy. The same with biting into a crisp, Fuji apple. There is a time and place for everything.
We are deeply connected to the foods and flavors we grew up with. They define us, as they define our palates. They stay with us forever, calling to us when we need comfort, always bringing us home. A sub or slice from Turvino’s. A dog “All The Way” and a fries with sauce from Johnny & Hanges. The Kosher Nosh Deli, The Suburban Diner… My Mom’s Onion Soup, my Grandma Mildred’s beyond heavenly Honey Cake, my Nana Rosalie’s Apricot Jello Mold.
And yet for the insatiable, we travel and explore to expand that palate… to open up our own horizons and experiences. To live life and understand the world, one plate at a time.
The things we hated as a child become our obsessions as an adult. Heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, truffles. An organic, heirloom tomato, imperfect in appearance, thickly sliced and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper… a pinch of truffle salt… and a gentle passing over of extra virgin olive oil. It becomes perfect. What is better than that?
There is a place and time for a fancy meal. A special occasion, a celebration, or just because. Those experiences can be glorious, memory creating, indelible. I still dream of the Lamb in Mint Cilantro Sauce from Ian’s in Cambria (Apparently adapted from Wolfgang Puck and found in his cookbook!) Meals in France finished with a bowl of homemade caramels in their lounge, the Seafood Tower at Le Dome in Paris, and going back to try to steal some of their dishes (literally) as the watchful staff knew exactly what was what the first time… Or asking the chef to come out of the kitchen at The Wine Cask in Santa Barbara.
But food on the run, and something seemingly so simple, can also hit us in a mystical and magical way. Seeking out the best of something does not mean spending a fortune on it. Nature provides perfection all the time. We just need to know what to look for. It can be found in a plant, an herb, a fruit, a vegetable.
It takes openness… an opening of the mind and the tastebuds… fully and without hesitation, breathing in the aroma, the flavors… inhaling life.
The other night I allowed pieces of Maytag Blue Cheese to gently melt on my tongue. The sweet and savory moved into my nostrils and set off every one of my senses. And then literally, warmed my chest and my heart.
A lemon can be holy, as can be a bowl of noodles. Jonathan Gold once called the broth of one particular restaurant’s bowl of ramen soulful… SOULFUL!
Sometimes the more simple, the more pure something can be. Its solo voice can be heard above the chorus… its singular flavor can be savored. Something basic can be more expressive than anything else… An analogy for people, humans as well.
The notion of loving everyone is so simplistic… yet so complicated, and almost impossible to accomplish. But the dream and the goal must remain. It must propel us forward.
Simply put… Food is love… Food is holy. Those who make food… truly make food, understand this. Yes, you may be tired after a long day of work, and the meal you make may consist of warming up leftovers, or just throwing something together, but you do it to sustain your family… you do it for love.
So what is the Recipe For Life?
Come back tomorrow, for the final, Part 4… and My Recipe For Life…