Last week was just one of those weeks, you know?
I was supposed to write about making yogurt cheese. I even took pictures of the process, in preparation for the post — but it just would never come out, it just felt tired and a bit meaningless.
Last week was hard in pragmatic ways. Tim left town for the week in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and before his plane landed in Seattle I had taken my Little Man to the ER for stitches in his cute, pudgy ring finger, a toy box lid having closed like a door onto its tip, sheering off much of the fleshy pad. When it happened, my friend Emily had stopped by — just for a few minutes — to help me choose a paint color for our kitchen. Instead, within 10 minutes of being here, she found herself helping me try to stop the bleeding of a finger that my son would let no one touch, and watched me fade into a fog of disillusion over the realization that a bandaid was not going to fix it.
So she scooped up her two kids and my 2-year old, threw them all into her 8-seater, and coaxed me and the injured to the backseat. She then drove us (all the while, my son screaming) to the ER, dropped us off, took the rest of the kids to kill time at Trader Joe’s and a thrift store (appropriate, if you know Emily), and then came by to pick us up again after the lidocaine and stitches had been painfully administered (one friend asked if they had to velcro him to the bed, and I replied that no, I was the velcro — fun times).
That afternoon, without going into the comical (in a comedy of errors sense) details: in an effort to pick up two tickets to the Arcade Fire show I’d won in a twitter contest the night before, I managed to also pick up a $75 parking ticket in downtown Indy. That’s the kind of monetary scenario that keeps me up at night, replaying a movie screen of decisions and choices, of blame and cynicism, until all joy from the initial slate of victory is wiped clean.
All this, in just 7 hours. So Emily said, hey, come to my house tonight. We can grill burgers for the kids, and we’ll pour you wine, grill you a steak, and put some sauteed morels on top. At first, out of sheer exhaustion, I said I’d have to think about it, as all I wanted to do was put everyone in my house to bed and fall into a forgetful sleep. But then I asked myself what could be difficult about someone else cooking for my family while drinking wine and complaining to sympathetic adult ears about my horrendous day?
(And, of course, there were the morels. Something I’d never had before, but will most definitely have again, even if I never find out where Emily foraged for them and have to pay the going rate of $35 a pound. Morels, they are the subject of another post. They are, in a word, magical.)
The rest of the week held highs and lows (a high being the Arcade Fire show, which I attended with my existing purchased ticket, and also sold my two prize tickets for exactly $75 in a moment of nervous [perhaps-illegal?] deal-making that is also the subject of another post; a low being Little Man’s diagnosis with both strep throat and a double-ear infection on Thursday). But the thing that effectively sealed the lid on my ability to write about yogurt cheese was a single day of horrendously bad weather that slammed into the south late Wednesday.
It seems that everyone has a distant disaster with which they might especially resonate. While I feel for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires, I have very little personal experience with them, so they feel other-worldly. With tornadoes, I know a thing or two. I grew up in tornado alley, where multiple times each spring and fall we found ourselves listening to sirens from the central hallway of our house, a mattress pulled over our bodies. When I was very small, we even had a full-blown tornado shelter embedded in our backyard, and when the threat was especially high we were carried through rain by our parents into the wet steel bunker.
In all those years under mattresses, I never once saw a tornado. One might hit the next town over, or hover in our area but never touch down. And it became tiresome, all that hiding from storms. But after spending a few days looking at images from Smithville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, I now realize that hiding in a bathtub really does save people’s lives; but also that sometimes no matter where you hide, the tornado wins.
I look at those images, wondering what it must be like to be hunkered down in a closet, to hear a deafening roar for less than a minute, and then look up to find your house torn from around you. In mere seconds, an entire town is left in ruins.
It’s a bit mind-blowing. Simultaneously putting things in perspective (my week? I was losing sleep over a parking ticket?) and wondering how these people will manage to put lives back together. Of all our friends and family in the South, no one I know was hurt — but we know the places, and in a sense we do know the people there. They were the people that grew up all around me, they are the lives of small towns and college campuses.
I was reading this morning, about people going to Tuscaloosa, the town that suffered the most devastating death toll and damages, to offer help. One group went to a hard-hit area, and brought pancakes. Homemade pancakes, to offer to those who were cleaning up the remains of their lives. The reason being that they thought the folks could use some comfort food.
Pancakes. We might initially think that these people don’t need pancakes, they need clothes and shelter and bulldozers to scoop up what’s left of their entire lives — and that is true. But, in a moment that brought me full-circle back to the steak and morels offered to me after a difficult Tuesday, it seems to me an entirely appropriate thing to give. We can’t snap a finger and undo what was done; we can’t in one fell swoop repair so many devastated lives. But the offering of food, of something warm and made with caring hands, brought to a place where there isn’t much left of comfort, is much more than the calories or nourishment or fullness it provides. It is a recognition that we are all helpless, at times, that our humanity gives us that feeling to share. It’s about giving time to the preparation of a meal, and offering it to someone who can’t spare the effort. It’s about bearing one another’s burdens, even when the burden feels big enough to crush a community.
Now living in Indiana, I can’t be like my sister Angie, and collect a truckload of clothes and supplies at a local club and then drive it 45 minutes over to Smithville. But I can be like Emily, and offer a meal and glass of wine to a friend who’s had a (relatively) horrendous day.
Perhaps also, after making all these connections and getting my priorities and inconveniences back into some sort of adequate chart of relativity, get back to making yogurt cheese. Because thankfully, graciously, activities that mundane are the ones that most days are made of.