This was originally going to be my February post, and it was going to be about love.
What about love, you ask? Oh, lots of things. Love is a pretty broad topic to cover, and even when I tried to tie it to food (as I do everything) I was overwhelmed by the options. I dabbled with a post about love and food in literature, but I kept coming back to Their Eyes Were Watching God, which has been written about by people more qualified than I. Harley Quinn’s love for her egg sandwich in Birds of Prey was also an option because a woman enjoying food is an act of self-love against the patriarchy, but in the end that was a tweet, not a blog post. I wrote a few paragraphs about feeling loved when people brought food to my Mardi Gras party and how Irma Thomas’s “Time Is On My Side” saved my King Cake (it did!), but dropped that idea, too, assuring myself that I’d have time to come up with something.
Now it’s April, and the world is sick.
Every point I would have made about love and food had to do with the joy of sharing it with others, of creating something that sustains another human being both in body and in soul. In the twisted universe we currently live in, though, cooking for people is a sin rather than a virtue. Restaurants and bars are shuttered. Church potlucks are out of the question. If you know someone who is sick, bringing them chicken soup is the worst possible decision for both of you. For all of the time I spent trying to write something that hasn’t already been written about the love we show people when we cook for them, I never once considered what love looks like when the best thing we can do for someone is stay far, far away.
Cooking for people is one of my love languages, if not the primary one. It brings me joy to see people walk into my house, hungry, and leave full (often with leftovers). I subscribe wholeheartedly to the notion that life is better, that we’re better, when we’re not hungry. Even if you’re not food-obsessed like me, you think with more clarity and feel safer when your belly is full. I like to be able to provide that for people. At the very least, I can do that.
It’s no surprise, then, that my passion for cooking has dampened as of late. In better times I’d get excited about the challenge to make ingredients stretch a little further or use coconut oil in places where I usually go for butter. Without guests in my home, a book club meeting to fill with snacks, or Alex’s coworkers grabbing my baked goods from their break room, everything I make seems like a little too much. More than we can eat. A less-than-responsible use of flour. It disturbs me to post my best food photos on Instagram when I know that dozens of bodies are being loaded into refrigerated trucks only two hours away in New York City.
There is a part of me, maybe a part of all of us, that hoped this would be a chance to demonstrate our resilience. To show off our skills and use the time we have to do something brilliant, like finish our novels or remodel our houses. If I had a dollar for every post alluding to extra productivity or gaining a new skill during this crisis, I’d throw my hat in the ring for president. No matter what we’d like to believe, though, the reality is that if we’re not on the front lines of the crisis, this is not the time to try and prove how much we can do. This is a time for weeping.
If you’re an office drone like I have been for most of my adult life, the most helpful things you can do in this situation are stay at home, do your job if you’re fortunate enough to have one, and let yourself be sad because the situation warrants it. We will lose people to this virus. Many of our most treasured places to gather will cease to exist. The way we think about being a part of large groups of people, about the fragility of our bodies, will be permanently altered. All of it is terrifying, and we do ourselves a disservice if we refuse to acknowledge our fear. There is no coming out on top of this period in time. There are heroes, but they’re suffering and will continue to suffer. It is cruel to pretend that their reality is not the same as ours. To pretend that if we cling to normalcy, normalcy will win out.
I was seventeen when my grandmother died, unexpectedly. I don’t remember what I felt as I lined up for choir rehearsal at school the day after, but in the middle of a song my director let her gaze linger on my face. She came over to me and said, “You don’t have to practice today if you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to be a hero.” It was only then that I began to sob. I didn’t realize until that moment that I’d boxed up what I felt, unable to accept that the depth of my loss could be reality. I thought that reality meant I had to make myself operate like it was any other day, lest the world slip off its hinges. Many of us today are desperate for permission to admit that things are not okay, that we are not okay, as if admitting it makes the whole situation our fault.
This is permission. You don’t have to be okay today or tomorrow or long after the pandemic ends. It will end someday, and when that day comes and we run (or possibly limp) back together, there will be food on my table and hugs at my front door. We will eat every open restaurant out of its stores of food and drink every bar dry. We’ll go to movies and shows and bask in the busyness of our streets. We’ll be together, even if we are afraid it will happen again.
Until that day comes, you have my permission to weep. Weeping is loving our friends, our families, and our heroes because we cannot be with them when they need us. All we can do is stay home, do the work that we can do, and let people know that their absence is our grief.
Love is missing you, and I do.
2 thoughts on “You Can Weep for This”
Wow !!! Brilliantly written.
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Thank you, Michele!