life obliges

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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.

39 comments on “life obliges

  1. Monica

    Thank you Shauna, I didn’t know it but I have missed this particular voice of yours. You are a writer, not only of food, and I love reading your words. Thank you for sharing the quote and video both, I am passing them on. I am excited to get your flour and excited for you and the whole family! Keep breathing…

  2. Vicki B

    Yes, Shauna, thank you for your moving words! I, too, believe that we are born many times in this life and beyond and love reading what you have to share!

  3. Margaret Clegg

    Thank you for this post. I SO needed it today. I’ve been struggling in my current job, honestly for some time. I’m having issues with my boss that makes me feel like I’m walking on egg shells all the time. I’m actually afraid to check my text messages at the moment as it’s possibly from her. It’s like I’m a little kid again, waiting for my emotionally abusive mom to yell at me or degrade me.
    I’m the president/chairperson of my Celiac Support group, as well as a blogger and expo organizer. (all volunteer work) I’ve been wanting to find a different (paying) job in this field for some time, but haven’t followed through. Your blog is giving me encouragement to try, talk to a few contacts I have, and hopefully find a job that fulfills my passion for Celiac Awareness.
    A heartfelt thanks for all that you do and a safe place to spill my heart. God bless.

    1. Catastrophe Jones

      I need glasses, perhaps — I read the line as “I’m the resident champion of my Celiac Support Group” and by god, did I want to come join YOU guys, because obviously you know what you’re doing! 🙂

      1. Margaret Clegg

        dear Catastrophe,
        thanks foor your comment. It really made me smile and brightened my day. Even made me feel like I knew what I was doing. We’re in Flint Michigan. You’re welcome to come join us anytime!

  4. Megan M.

    I don’t consider your blog to be just a blog devoted to gluten-free foods. Most of the time it is, but I love the times when you step away from that structure and share with us little snippets of your life. As a reader, it makes me feel more connected to you and your family because you’re not cordoning off portions of your life.

  5. Ginny

    Shauna, your website is about living gluten-free, not just recipes. It’s the living part that draws us in and keeps us here! You write about your evolving lives, and in doing that, make us notice things happening in our own situations. We can find GF recipes all over the internet now, but it is your insights and realness that bring us back. Thanks so much.

  6. Peggy

    Thank you so very much for your moving tribute to the remarkable lady. You write about what is important in your life, my friend. It helps to drown out the white noise of cable Tv, etc. Thank you and keep truckin!

  7. Emily

    Thank you, Shauna. I love your posts, which always seem to have absolutely perfect timing in their relevance. As you know, my husband and I are very new to the island, but plan to make it our home. I came to the realization this week that one of the reasons we are here is to heal, and reading your posts is always healing, especially this one. I so appreciate your courageous writing! I wish I had had the privilege of meeting your friend, whose might I have heard about from many others on the island.

  8. Christine

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.
    This was a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

  9. Mirna Peterson

    Thank you for your thought provoking post. I do not have to avoid gluten. I have been following your blog off and on since you had a commercial on the Food Network. I read your blog for the wonderful writing you put out. Congratulations to you and your family for all the successes you have had. Your many cook books, your trips abroad and now your Gluten Free Flour. You are a remarkable woman. Your friend was lucky to have you as part of her life. May she find the light.

  10. Laura

    Thank you for this post. Keeping (sort of) to the topic of new life, my Miles is Desmond’s age. Do you plan to follow a standard MMR schedule? We are pondering this…guidence appreciated! 🙂

  11. Gemma

    A wonderful post. If I only wanted a recipe I could read a cookbook, these kinds of reflections are what make reading food blogs a true pleasure.

  12. dorothy hiebert

    Thank you for your post today. You listened to that inner voice giving you permission to “put it out there” and many in your audience needed to read your words.
    What I find so refreshing about you is how open and honest you are, no pretenses. A few years ago I was in a class you gave in Vancouver, BC, meeting you in person was the best. One day I hope to visit Vashon Island and come for a class!

  13. Jan

    Shauna, you can write about whatever you want–you are a writer!! I for one love to read what you write, whether it be about food or life or learning how to get your business off the ground. I have two friends who started a business approximately 10 years ago, making healthy treats for dogs. I watched them up close (and I was able to help a little, too) going through the stages you describe. It IS a birth and every bit as painful and joyful. I heartily wish you both all the best in this venture!!

  14. robyn

    Shauna, this could NOT have come at a better time. I had to retire 18 months ago due to health issues and I am just now getting my bearings. My health issues, my work ‘failures’ , my severe addiction to fast food and my hoarding tendencies CAN NOT and WILL NOT define me or the rest of my life. My life is MY life, and I can reinvent myself as many times as I need & want to.

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear friend; I think she would be happy that your tribute to her has inspired so much gratitude and paths to healing. Bless you.

  15. Konrad Ribeiro

    Hi Shauna –
    Thank you for this loving, beautiful tribute to my mom. A soft rain of tears dropped onto my keyboard while reading. Meeting you and your lovely family (Desmond!!!) was a highlight of a day full of joy and love.

    To those who never met my mom: Get to know the people she loved and you’ll know her. Everyone she touched informed who she was and how she showed up in the world.

    I miss her terribly but the memorial was a gentle reminder that while she may have let go of this life, she is surely still alive.

    With love,
    Konrad

  16. Anne

    Thank you! I enjoy the writing style and the perspective. Gluten free life changes brought you to all of us yet it is only a part of you. Thank you for your posts on the blog that completes the picture (especially the one on adoption – you put into words my feelings on the struggles). Keep writing and sharing please.

  17. Piper S

    Thank you for such a heart-felt blog! I agree completely. I am starting my second marriage and also feel that life is all about rebirth and reinventing yourself and your life. Thank you for your honesty and wonderful perspective. You are such an inspiration to me! Keep speaking from your heart, we are all listening.

  18. Davonne Parks

    This was a beautiful testimonial. I missed the kickstarter campaign but I can hardly wait to support your endeavors by purchasing your flour as soon as it is available (soon! soon!). My husband and I started a business together nearly 10 years ago and we’re still always learning and growing in it. Thank you for sharing your journey with your readers.

  19. farmepam

    Honestly, one of your better posts, maybe that’s because it comes at the perfect time for me, as I help my sister pass out of this life. “Please feel free to feel sad, but promise that the joy of having known her will be 1% bigger than the grief.” Lovely words I will pass on in the next coming days. Thank you for sharing.

  20. Nanna

    It’s very early morning, too early,and sleep eludes me. I love this post, for it sits so softly,so gently, in my sleepy mind that it makes me cry.

  21. kristy

    Love this! Well, I don’t love that you lost a dear friend but it sounds like she lived her life fully. The wobbly steps you describe sound like the beginning of deep play described by Martha Beck in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.

    Death is nothing to be afraid of! Neither is life.

  22. Sam

    My husband recently found your site when my biscotti turned out crumbly — not crumby; really, really tasty — but crumbly. And, I made the mistake of mixing oat flour (not realizing it contained gluten) with my rice flour (this is all still new to me), and paid the price for it! Your tribute is very touching, but I must say, we are not stardust, we are clay; moldable by our Maker as long as we don’t allow ourselves to become hardened by the trials and sorrows of life. He transforms sorrow into joy as morning follows night. It’s just a matter of time and faith, and in the end He is all that matters. (Whether you’re a person of faith or not, read Psalm 139. It’ll blow your mind!)

  23. Lynn

    Shauna, it’s the postings like this one that keep me coming back to visit. It isn’t the recipes…it’s seeing the world through your eyes, the honor of getting to see your life change and you children grow. Thank you for continuing to share with us. It’s precious.

  24. Angela

    Discovering your blog today I have thoroughly enjoyed the stories you share here and I’m so glad that like this post, your writing celebrates your world around and beyond gluten free living. It makes it a very enriching experience. Thank you.

  25. rebecca

    Lovely, Shauna. While I adore your recipes, and all that you have done to advance great gluten free food, it is really your writing and your beautiful spirit that draw me back hear time and again.

  26. jackie

    Love this so much. Thank you for sharing — and please continue to do so! I’m going to pass this Garcia Marquez quote on now; it’s so beautiful and rings true.

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