This I Believe

Cindy - San Jose, California
Entered on October 3, 2007

I believe in pesto pizza. Basil pesto spread on a homemade wheat crust, topped with Roma tomatoes from the garden, fresh mozzarella cheese. I believe in pesto pizza eaten outside under a canopy of lemon branches as the sun gives way to the stars.

But I haven’t always believed in pesto pizza. Tiptoeing into my grandmother’s pantry as a child, gorging myself on peanut brittle and fudge, I believed in deception. I was just like the grandfather I would sometimes meet in the pantry, his index finger to his lips to indicate silence just before he tipped the bottle back.

As a young woman, I believed in diets—drinking Tabs, eating tuna fish and apples while still occasionally sneaking into someone’s pantry.

When I got pregnant, I believed in cravings. Mashed potatoes were at the top of the list, but I stopped short of eating the dirt from our flower bed that I once thought I wanted.

After I was ordained as a pastor, I believed in potlucks. But I never let myself think about the hypocrisy of us good church folks praying for the hungry in the Congo while we waddled our way back for third helpings of Julie’s stuffed shells, Kris’s wheat berry bread, Deborah’s fresh apple cake.

After more than a decade as a pastor, I believed I wanted to die—although that belief wasn’t conscious. I simply stopped eating, blaming my loss of appetite on stress. I started weighing myself two or three times a day, counting the calories of everything I ate including the small square of bread dipped into a chalice of grape juice. What we called a sacrament. The body and blood of Christ. Seventeen calories.

In the locked psychiatric ward of the hospital, I didn’t believe that I was suffering from brain starvation, that I was near death as the physicians kept telling me. I didn’t believe that food was my medicine as the nurses cheerfully repeated every time they forced me to eat another meal or snack. It was all I could do to believe that I would get to go home again.

I’ve been released from the hospital for nearly a year now. While my eating practices are sometimes a little odd, my weight has remained stable. What beliefs I have are few and modest. I believe in my husband who has lived his vow to stand by me in sickness and in health, who still has light in his eyes when he looks at me. I believe as the Native Americans did that I will be restored by beauty—despite what modern psychiatric medicine does to those of us with mental illnesses, locking us away in fluorescent-lit institutions. I believe in words, in finding ways to tell the truth of my life that may not agree with what my grandfather or my church or my psychiatrist would tell you. And yes, I the anorexic believe in food—prepared lovingly, eaten mindfully, shared intentionally. I believe in pesto pizza.