Monday, June 20, 2016

The Sacred Practice of Messy Generosity

A few Sundays back, I walked the entire span of the River Market neighborhood. Here in Kansas City, this area sits just on the south side of the Missouri river and acts as a gateway from northland surbubia into the more urban areas of the city. Every weekend, the market fills with Kansas Citians from every side of the city. Suburbanites vie for parking spots, hoping to blend in with the apartment living, city dwellers just for the day.

I am one of those. I drive in from the suburbs because this neighborhood feels special to me. There are memories of friendship here and, in a way, my writing career was born in the River Market at a wobbly table set right by folded napkins in a coffee shop on Delaware. So, I keep visiting, sometimes multiple times a week, drinking a flat white and pounding on my keys while the girls spend the day with the grandma or their dad.

On this particular Sunday, I squeezed into a parking spot and then out of my car. Hoisting my laptop bag onto my shoulder, a took the long way to my normal spot at the window of the coffee shop. I have been trying hard these days to pay more attention. As a work-at-home, writer, needing inspiration but finding my face jammed in front of screen working has become a thorn in my side. I need fresh ideas, fresh perspective and while I know it is there I haven't been seeing it lately.

So, I slipped my phone in my purse and looked straight ahead, my eyes searching for whatever the market had to show me. I was looking for a pitch to new a food publication I want to break into, but what I saw was generosity. I watched as a street vendor paused between paying clients to toss a warm hot dog into the hands of a man, telling him to hush up and get lost when he offered payment. I watched a hipster, coffee shop patron stand on the sidewalk and repeatedly offer cigarettes to passersby who repeatedly refused, who probably didn't smoke, until someone stopped and shared a cigarette with him. It was messy generosity, it was imperfect, and it was sacred in it's own way.  

I live a very disconnected life. I have found myself struggling to really connect with others outside of my computer screen after spending so much time with toddlers or emailing editors I've never met day after day after day. Seeing that generosity still connects us in this world, even when we seem to live such self-consumed lives most of the time, gave me inspiration--just not in the way I had expected. Instead of my next pitch, I found hope and motivation to move forward with more generosity. Not your run-of-the-mill, cash money generosity, but the same messy generosity seen in foil-wrapped hot dogs and shared cigarettes. I want to push forward to be more giving of my time, attention, and love with less care for how it will perceived or if I am doing it right or if my theology is OK. I don't really care to protect myself from judgement these days, as self preservation simply doesn't fit in a world that seems to be desperately in need of a little generosity lately.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Sacred Practice of Filling Bellies

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself in a trance-like state, standing at the counter top with raw food spread out before me.

There is something about returning to the basics of preparing food, washing dishes, wiping counters, and sweeping floors that brings me back to the here and now. With a third baby on the way, and the pressure of surviving on my freelance income while my husband is on the hunt for a new job, I often find myself absorbed with the future. Questions about next month, and the bills on the horizon, or this summer, and the medical expenses looming, or next fall, when maternity leave may not happen, flood my mind and make my heart race. These are things I cannot control, I cannot fix.

Here, in my kitchen, I can accomplish what has to be done. Little bodies are hungry from outdoor play, and the food in front of me is unfit to eat without my intervention. I set to work. As my hands perform the task before me, my brain lets go of bills and new babies, and becomes absorbed in the comforting monotony of food preparation. Swai is divided into nuggets, dipped in flour, dunked in egg wash, tossed in panko, and all is repeated two dozen times before sliding them into the oven. 

Hands are washed, and water set to boil. When my mind starts to wander back to expenses, medicaid applications, and finding new clothes for my the preschooler (who grows taller during every nap), I set to walking myself through the steps of ordinary housework I've performed a million times, tasks I can (and I have) complete while half asleep. Fill the sink with suds and water, dip dirty plates, scrub and drop into the dish drainer to my right. Repeat.

The water is rolling, so I dump a pound of pasta, watching it drop below the surface and throwing salt after it. Another saucepan finds it's way to the stove top, and butter slides along the surface, melting for cheese sauce. Cheese sauce is nothing special, when it comes to cooking skills, but it requires attention, and I relish that. Constant stirring to avoid scalding distracts me from whatever worry could consume me next. Finally, broccoli, because good parents feed their children green things, or at least that's what I've been told.

When you have a family, cooking can be a burden. As a mother of toddlers, three meals a day are my responsibility, with the occasional help of their father, of course. But largely, it is me, standing at the counter, tracing snakes in scrambling eggs, slicing grapes into halves and then quarters, blowing on bowls of spaghetti before setting them in front of impatient eaters.

But the "burden" of cooking is a gift, too. There is a comfort in returning to the basics, in doing the next task, when your days are full of things you cannot manipulate to fit your wishes. Most importantly, it is a reminder of the daily provision of full bellies, something we have never gone without, and for that, I am truly grateful.

image by: Maciej Szlachta
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