I went to a reading by Sebastian Junger the other night, author of the recently released War. He's a fascinating man. You have to respect someone who, acknowledging that short stories do not a rich man make, decided to up and leave to become a freelance war reporter. You certainly can't accuse the man of taking the safe route when he's at 30, 000 feet, spending time with soldiers all over Afghanistan. I found what he had to say about the war so very interesting and provocative, and was immediately enlightened in ways I didn't imagine I'd be when I left my apartment that night.
On evenings like last night, when I'm feeling particularly down, great news or no, I go back and remember the meals I've enjoyed over the past year and the people I've shared them with. It flat-out makes me happy. Most of us will not experience what Sebastian Junger experienced; we will not know suffering like that, or pain like that, or loss like that. We will not know, first-hand, what goes on overseas. We will not know the oil spill like those who live off the gulf coast will know it, and we will not know the loss of aquatic life the way those whose careers depend on it will know it. For many of us, our biggest battles will be of a more intimate nature: death, heartbreak, concern over being able to make rent, disease and illness in the family, childbirth, finding a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes they feel mighty and overpowering.
But I think that there's something profoundly life-altering about food. We eat together after a funeral. We feast post-wedding. Inmates set to die get their last meal. We get together over a potluck, or a potato bar. We enjoy a movie accompanied by popcorn or Junior Mints. A pic-nic in the park with fresh lemonade to toast summer, or ice cream and popsicles in August to keep us cool. Before my grandfather died a few years ago, a cup of vanilla yogurt with berries from Tim Hortons was the only thing that appealed to him. That's what I remember about those last days -- my grandfather holding up a cup of yogurt, his feet covered in cold cloths, listening to an old cassette tape of Johnny Cash while my great-uncle mocked him for his music preferences.
I don't need to point out the many reasons we eat. But food ignites the senses. It re-invigorates us. It reminds us.
After all, someone had to plant the seeds. Someone harvested the fruit. Someone cleaned, drove, ordered, stocked. Food isn't just fuel; it re-affirms the relationships we have with each other, and of the reality that we are intrinsically bound to one another by our collective need to fill and nourish our bodies.
If a shitshow's going to hit -- which it surely will to all of us, sooner or later -- perhaps it's best we gather around the table and sit down to a square meal. Let's hang out on a patio and put back a couple pints. Let's laugh a long while about life and disappointment and misery and happiness, and let's toast to being able to keep on doing this, to keep on getting to know one another better, to find ourselves lucky enough that when the time comes, we will be welcomed into the innermost corners of each other's lives. Let's hope we know almost instinctively when to listen and when to speak, when to hold fast and when to let go, and how to comfort each other in a way that keeps for longer than a meal. It might happen that we lose our footing while going through a dark tunnel, and we're going to need that foundation if we ever expect to muster the courage and the confidence to put on that hard hat, yell "Where the hell did my flashlight go?", and keep on trudging.