I believe in making meals for people when they are in the throes of life-changing events. I didn’t grow up seeing this, as some people do in small towns, or active religious congregations. My mother was single, a good, kind woman, but fixed pretty firmly on raising us and taking care of herself. She did no volunteering, and while she had one friend frequently over for dinner, I never saw her take food to anyone, and no one ever brought food to us.
I learned about this simple but stellar way to make someone’s life shine when I had my first child, and was wiped out by a thirty-seven hour labor, and an unusually long recovery, complicated by pushing myself too soon to get back to normal. When Linda from birthing class had her husband Sean stop by with lasagna and then Cynthia dropped off soup, I looked at the containers on my counter and knew myself in friend heaven. Ah! So this is what people do for one another! I could eat, and I could feed my strapping husband with no effort.
Afterwards I resolved that I would always take a meal to anyone I knew who had a baby, and I did: tempting assemblages of something hearty, salad, bread, a dessert and beverage. Later, I realized that a death in the family, or sickness, or a natural disaster also called for coddling, so the scope of the good deed grew, partly as my experience did, and partly as I learned how to love.
The food gift took on more resonance when in 2004 my house flooded in Hurricane Ivan. Schools were out for over three weeks—a measure of the full extent of the crisis– grocery stores were closed five days, we were days without electricity, without water, nights sleeping on the floor at a dry house, hours sorting and lugging out ruined floors and walls, cupboards, clothes and furniture and books and records with wet covers and mildew growing fast. People came from all over the country to volunteer with the Red Cross or their churches and for many days in a row, even though we’d set the camping stove up in the garage, I got in the van to snake around in the line that formed in the middle school parking lot to pick up a hot dinner for me, the same husband, and our two children. We could have managed. We had MRI’s. It wasn’t the chicken and green beans we needed. It was the tender care and love from these devoted perfect strangers. Their presence in the middle of our disaster sustained us.
It always is, I believe, love that buoys us when we’re tired or losing what we want to hold on to. More than anything, I want to remember I’m not alone on earth, and I get that along with the food. If that’s something I can provide for others, then it’s clear as day: keep on cooking, a hungry heart awaits.
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