On Sunday afternoon, along with more than 100 people from our island community, we attended the memorial for a woman we adore. After battling cancer three times in her life, pernicious pneumonia set in. After a few days at the hospital, so did reality. There was one decision to make: die in the hospital, connected to breathing tubes and the means to keep her alive for weeks, or go home to die, surrounded by the people she loved most. She made it home.
I could write an entire piece about this woman, who was a force of nature, a fiercely kind being who wanted nothing more than to connect good people together. She was mighty. She laughed easily and looked you right in the eye. She was a biochemist for decades, a scientist deeply dedicated to rigorous truth, and a mystic at the same time. She believed in the complexities of human beings and she was comfortable in the unknown. In her retirement, she volunteered for arts organizations, health organizations, and as many charities as she could. She was sharp as a tack and fully alive.
Lucy, who adored this woman too, chose her own outfit for the memorial: a floppy pink sun hat, a gauzy purple scarf, sparkly tights, and a dress that said smile on the front. (Danny was so struck by the light that he had to take the photo above.) Believe me, our friend would have loved this outfit.
It was the right tone, too. Our friend’s son sent out a message in advance of the memorial: sadness is understandable, and please feel free to feel sad. But promise us that your joy at having known her will be 1% bigger than the grief. We all listened to him. This was the most joyful memorial I have ever attended.
Her son shared something that has been rumbling around in my mind ever since. He said that his mother gave him this quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: ”.…human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but.…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
I think I sighed hard when I heard him read this quote. (And then I laughed when he said, “Yeah, my mom gave this quote to me when I was 8, so that probably tells you something.”) These words, they rush through me, because this is how I feel about my own children. I’m here for them, but they will give birth to themselves, many times over. That’s their job. I’ll just be here to hear their stories and hold their hands when they need it.
That’s my job for myself too.
When I was a kid, my dad told me a fact that astounded me: every cell in our body regenerates itself, so that every seven years, we are essentially a new person. (It turns out that’s a bit of an urban myth but isn’t everything more nuanced than it seems?) I grew up with the feeling that I was constantly changing, never the same. I’ve always felt that my biggest task is to get out of my own way and let the great shifts happen. Just let the next birth happen.
Birth is hard. But the first year after birth might be even more confusing. Next month, Desmond will be one year old. We’ve watched him open his eyes wide and take it all in. Then he learned to smile. And then sleep. There were movements from his back, then he flipped himself over. The day after our Kickstarter was done, he started crawling for the first time. And now, he’s just about to walk. I give him a couple of weeks until those first wobbly steps happen.
It makes us laugh now to think that we’ve been going through a similar first year, with our new gluten-free flour business. It was a long gestation. This past year, all those dreams came into reality in a small white box. This week, all the Kickstarter reward boxes of flour are going out. Within a week or two, we’ll have the flour for sale on this site. I bet it’s the same day Desmond takes his first steps.
There have been times this year that Danny and I have both felt like babies, unable to even roll over. This has all been new territory. It has been terrifying at times. We’ve reinvented ourselves, not only by starting a small business (what the heck do we know about this? we’ve wanted to cry out at times) but by seeing ourselves in this new light. I cannot count the number of intense conversations we’ve had together, and with people we trust, about what we want to do in this world, and what we want to give, and how we want to be, as people. This really isn’t about making money.
I love the verb Marquez used there: “..life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” Obliges. Not encourages or hopes or offers. But obliges. What other choice do we have to change when all the cells in our body are transforming themselves as I type? We must give birth to ourselves. There is no other choice. So what if those first steps are wobbly? We’re alive.
Look, I’ll be honest. I read this draft a dozen times before I decided to publish this. What kind of hell blog post is this for a gluten-free food site? We all share this sort of unspoken understanding that food blogs are pleasant places, with pieces that aren’t too long, sometimes extolling the virtues of a certain food, mostly sharing stories about gatherings and small revelations and connections with people. It’s what I write most of the time. But sometimes, that template just feels too constricting.
We don’t have a recipe for you this week. We’ve been busy learning shipping software (wobbly steps! I wanted to throw a tantrum at times!) and packing boxes for shipping and starting to make this thing we have been dreaming about into muscle memory. I could have told you stories about that and posted a link to an old recipe.
But all of this has been drifting through my mind often this week. And for months. We don’t have just one life and then a death. They aren’t divided. There are, without a doubt, a thousand deaths and births while we’re here. I think the best way to live through them is to talk about it and share it with each other. Why are we so afraid of talking about death?
Finding out you have to be gluten-free doesn’t have to be a tragedy. It could just be your latest birth.
To participate in this life. That’s what our friend did. She participated in life.
I hope that when I go out I have the chance to die as clear-minded and loving as our friend did.
And I thank her son for reminding me of another fact my dad taught me when I was young, through a video his mom loved and shared with him: in the end, we’re all stardust anyway.