Once, not so long ago, my life was saved by a meal. But not literally. At the time I was eating three deliciously prepared vegetarian meals a day, made with mostly organic ingredients, served in a lovely setting, surrounded by friends and other good people. Food was abundant and easy to obtain, as it usually is here in the Western world.
Nonetheless, I was utterly and completely depleted. Exhausted and overworked, I was pushed beyond my limits in my position as head cook of, ironically, that very same vegetarian kitchen. There I was, feeding over sixty people three meals a day, six days a week but I had forgotten how to feed myself.
Other major life events were crashing though my life as well (death, divorce, major surgery, moving house, etc.) and it all piled up like a bad train wreck one day and I simply put down my knife and walked out. Not too skillful, I know, but it was all I could manage. I retreated to my little apartment and tried to find a small piece of solid ground on which to stand, if only for a minute.
One afternoon, a good friend came knocking at my door. He led me outside and down the street, past the mega-Safeway and into the little fruit-and-vegetable bodega on the corner. I didn’t have to do anything, just trail listlessly behind him as he filled his basket, which was good because it was about all I could handle.
We took the streetcar to his home in a neighborhood on a hill in San Francisco. He sat me down in his delightful remodel-in-progress kitchen with its ocher walls and creamy trim, the 1970s brown electric stove listing beneath a tangle of wires dangling from the ceiling. It was early spring evening, pale green and cool and sweet.
He set a small bowl of almonds and a nice glass of chilled Riesling on the table. Soon there was another dish of olives, some crackers and a crumbly, goaty cheese. As I ate, I felt something begin to stir and awaken within me, responding to a kind of nourishment that was more than the food. I had not realized how dull and broken I had become. How stuffed with grief and anger and regret.
We sat together in his small dining room. Simple food. A pasta, a salad, freshly baked focaccia, the rest of the wine. A piece of fruit and a few cookies for dessert. My friend brought me back that afternoon with the most basic of things—a meal cooked with care and love and attention. To this day, I am deeply grateful.
Since then, I have tried to notice these simple gestures we do for each other, these small efforts to give comfort or assistance. What does it take to see what is needed and then offer it up? Is there anything more important? Sometimes, it’s all I want to do: just show up in someone’s life, sit them down and serve them something refreshing and nourishing.
Is there a meal in your life that saved you, that provided you with something more than just some flavor and a few calories? What would you cook for someone who needed tending to?
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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in June 2008. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.