I don’t have a recipe today. Rather, I have some semi-food-related thoughts. And memories. And feelings. And though I’m not sure exactly why, I’d like to share them.
I’ve been thinking lately about comfort food. Not a specific comfort food, but the idea that certain meals or foods can bring us much-needed comfort. When big things happen, it seems that the first thing we want to do is provide food. When a coworker’s baby is born, we sign up to bring meals to the new family. The biggest wedding-related decision we made was about dinner and dessert. And to this day, I’ve never been to a memorial that didn’t have an extensive spread of food. I’m not sure if these are universal experiences, or just mine. I suspect it’s probably somewhere in between.
Last year my brother was hospitalized. Without going into too much detail (it’s his story, after all – not mine) I had a voicemail from my mom during work on a Friday afternoon. The kind where you can tell just by their tone of voice that it’s time to circle the wagons. And after racing home from work and booking the first flight I could from Detroit to Portland, I killed the slowly passing time until my flight by baking chocolate chip cookies. Even at that time, I recognized this act as useless and futile and inconsequential.
But I did it anyway.
And by the time I arrived at the hospital in Portland the next day, I was the fourth person to bring chocolate chip cookies. By the end of the week, there was enough food in that tiny hospital room to feed a community. And that’s what it did. It fed a community of people who were tired and scared and at the same time hopeful and cheery. A community of people who watched funny youtube videos (Bane Cat, anyone?) and befriended the nurses and technicians. A community of people who rooted for the Portland Trailblazers like the future of the whole world depended upon their winning.
That time was difficult and terrifying and overwhelming for our little hospital room community. And I don’t realistically think that my baking chocolate chip cookies made any ostensible difference. Except that, as one of my peer advisors said at work the other day, “food is love”. So in that sense, even the food we didn’t eat fed us.
Food, and more accurately the sentiment behind it, sustains us while we’re trying to get by in the only ways we know how.
On a really basic, physical level, we can’t live without food. And while it may be more physically possible than foregoing food, I don’t think we can easily live without our communities, either. In my mind, the two are linked. I think that’s why when things are new, scary, happy, tough, celebratory, painful, or tragic, our first instinct is to bring food.
Which brings me to what’s really been on my mind these past few days, the reason (one of them, anyway) that I’ve been losing sleep, and why I have a few incoherent rambling paragraphs in place of a recipe and some food photographs this morning. One of the things that is most upsetting to me about the shooting at Umpqua Community College this past week is just how common and routine it feels to turn on the news to find that someone has taken a gun(s) to a school and killed people.
I don’t have any answers. I don’t even have any cookies this time.
I have sadness and anger and frustration and incredulity that despite the staggering amount of gun violence we see in this country on a regular basis, we still can’t manage to pass a few rudimentary legislative measures to restrict even just a modicum of gun access to those people who would use them to kill college students, teachers, and elementary school children.
I guess all of this is just to say that I’ve been thinking about comfort lately and how little of it there seems to be at the moment.
I don’t have answers. I just have more questions.
What comfort is there for a country (the only country) where school shootings are so regular that we’ve come to expect them? What comfort is there for the victims of the violence at Umpqua Community College and all those people touched by it? What comfort is there for a society in which, upon hearing there’s been another school shooting, our first reaction is not shock or surprise but an urgent, painfully simple one-word question asked with bated breath: