Meri and I spent the day together, shopping for food, chopping it up, cooking it in a dozen concoctions, and eating it. Laughing. Drinking great wine. Watching a wonderful French film that made us both cry. Being with each other, in the calm, secure silence that only people who have been connected friends for five years can share. We didn’t really talk about it this year, except for one spontaneous moment of silence in the car. After talking about Hurricane Katrina again, I mentioned that other day. We stopped talking, and we happened to be driving past the cemetery. We both looked straight ahead. Remembering. And then we started talking again. But all day long, I’ve been thinking about it. That day four years ago. For those of you who don’t know me, or who have just started reading this blog, I lived in New York City for four years. And as I always like to joke, time in New York is like dog years, so that’s really a lifetime, in reality. Those were four of the most vibrant years of my life. Some of the most dramatic, hilarious, spontaneous, ridiculous years of my life. I am who I am because of New York. And then, it was time to leave. Sharon and I rode the Staten Island ferry back and forth from Manhattan, the evening of the night I left New York. And I remember looking up at those two towers, a splash of sunlight flaring from them in the twilight. And I remember thinking, “There’s New York. And I’m leaving it.” That was the night of June 30, 2001. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was moving through my early-morning routine, getting ready for my third day of teaching in Seattle. And I heard on NPR…And I rushed to turn on the tv…And I called my brother to tell him…And I called my parents, who had been watching for an hour, and I screamed, “Why didn’t you call me?”.…And I watched in horror as the images kept repeating, the plane, the plume, the smoke, the people.….And I fell to the ground crying when the second tower fell to the ground.…I can’t do it. I still can’t write about it. We all lived through it. You know. I had never felt that raw. And since then, there was Afghanistan. And Iraq. God, Iraq. And divisive elections. And now, Katrina. In so many ways, those moments the morning of September 11th ripped me open and forced me to really look at the world. And every anniversary of it ever since, Meri and I have spent the day together. We became friends in New York, and we moved out to Seattle around the same time. We had apartments next door to each other, and we literally would knock on each other’s doors for a cup of sugar. On that morning, she had already left for work, and I was alone. But that night, and for days afterwards, we clung to each other, crying. Since then, there have been five thousand conversations, and we never grow tired of each other. And there’s just a tacit understanding that we’ll spend the day of the 11th together. But this year, we didn’t talk about it. Maybe it’s because Katrina is so dominating our minds. Somehow, in some ways, this one feels worse. We could have done so much more for the people in the path of it. Or maybe these days it’s just one disaster after another. I don’t know. Or maybe time does heal all wounds.
So today, we spent the day cooking. Soft, warm polenta. Chicken stock simmering for hours and enticing us with its scent. An Argentinian spicy sauce, more pungent and memorable than salsa, with a gorgeous smell that bites at the nose. Almond butter, started with slivered almonds in the food processor, whirled into soft spreadable butter, with a touch of chestnut honey. A spontaneous tomato sauce, with fresh oregano, rosemary, thyme, and peppers, then put into the crockpot to distill all day. Frozen yogurt, with raspberries and a touch of cream, topped with syrupy cherries. And the promise of more, later in the week. Always, there is more food to make.
There’s a reason we bring food to funerals, make casseroles for people in need. When all else fails, our bodies still need to eat. And in some ways, nothing seems a more vital sign of life than smelling herbs, chopping onions, simmering a sauce, cutting into fresh-baked bread, or tasting the dish you’ve been working on all afternoon. And for a moment, time stops. No worries fall on your head. No need to think about everything that’s coming tomorrow and how you’re going to accomplish it all. You just taste food. Taste life. Are alive.
There’s something deeply meditative about all these kitchen tasks. The world can feel encroaching, sometimes coming apart at the seams. But take out an onion, peel it of its papery skin, watch it glisten in the light filtering through the window, and start to chop it into meticulous pieces. Within minutes, everything else has fallen away.
Meri and I were talking about it this afternoon, how grateful we feel to be women who have choices of how we want to live our lives, unlike our grandmothers. And as women of a certain generation in this country, we’re expected to be determined and aggressive, career women with fabulous plans. But in some ways, the older we grow, the more we become like our grandmothers: making food from scratch; feeding the people we love; keeping our homes cozy. It takes time to do all that. And something has to go. And for me, it’s late-night parties in fabulous clubs; dating in a desperate search to meet someone; and worrying about how other people perceive me. I’m just here.
And lately, I’m just in the kitchen, cooking away. I’m not sure if it’s because of Katrina, and the knowledge in my body that so many people are without homes, that I so love being here, cooking and cleaning. And writing. Or maybe I’ve just finally hit my stride.
But I do know that after that September 11th, I can never take life for granted again. And every year is just another chance to practice gratitude.
Time does heal all wounds. And a little thyme doesn’t hurt either.
The Best of It
However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.
—Kay Ryan, from The Niagara River. © Grove Press, New York.