Monday, July 12, 2010
Food for Thought
"Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity."
~ Hamlet (1.1.72-3)
What would we do without Shakespeare? It doesn't bear thinking about; he is always there when needed, and usually with just the right take on things. I'll never write anything that good, but here I am anyway. I haven't updated in awhile, partly because I haven't been cooking much, but primarily because my mind has been elsewhere. My mother, June (née Kirby) Tsiokas, died of complications from metastatic breast cancer on June 25th, and that has taken up the majority of my available mental space. Inevitably, such an event suspends normal activities, and causes a person to pause, reflect, and spend some time reassessing Life, the Universe, and Everything (to say nothing of staying up/sleeping in rather later than is necessarily good for them). The past few weeks have left me feeling exhausted, as if I'd been performing hard, physical labor - which I can assure you, I have not. Friends and loved ones have stepped forward with many words and deeds of kindness, including the advice to give things a break, and not to beat up on myself for not being quite...well, myself.
Part of my sense of dislocation has been a lack of interest in food, cooking, and eating, which is unfortunate, because the kitchen has always been a place I go to decompress. I trust this will prove temporary, but right now I'm just not feeling it. Of course, the irony is that both of my parents basically lived to cook, and especially to cook for others. After my father died, in early 2007, I found that chopping, stirring, and cooking things brought me a certain amount of comfort; at a time when I felt weak and vulnerable, it was one area in which I was still strong and competent.
This time is different. Maybe it has something to do with it being my mother, with whom I had an intense and often complicated relationship, or maybe it's the fact that I am now an "orphan." I realize that's a silly word to apply to a card-carrying, childbearing, mortgage-paying grown-up like myself, but that's how it feels. I may not be reduced to Dickensian waifishness - picking pockets or sleeping under the counter at the coffinmaker's shop - but I am nonetheless officially out of parents.
No matter how wonderful one's partner, friends, and other family members, there will never be another person on the other end of the phone so genuinely interested in the minutiae of your life (whether or not you have a headache, what you're having for dinner, your kid's report card) in the same way as your own mother. The person who carried you in her body, brought you into the world, and fed, clothed, and loved you from when you were the merest scrap of helpless humanity right through to - with any luck - responsible adulthood.
Then again, I have my own children: sons who are growing up fast, for whom I must be that voice on the phone, and as I negotiate this rite of passage, it's important to bear that circularity in mind. As Claudius tells the grieving Hamlet, "you must know, your father lost a father;/ That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound/ In filial obligation for some term/ To do obsequious sorrow..." Of course, the flaw in this example is that Claudius has actually killed Hamlet's father, but the point remains valid: the loss of our parents constitutes an enormous change, and it takes a little while to find our bearings again. One friend described the experience as akin to being "a small child lost in the world's hugest department store."
So what I need to realize is that a few weeks of reflective, not-especially-productive downtime is not "...to persevere/ In obstinate condolement [or]...a course/ Of impious stubbornness," nor is it such a big deal, in light of the enormity of what's happened to my family. And I guess what I'm taking rather a long time to say is thank you. Thanks to the people who have been, and continue to be there for me, and for their admonitions to be a bit gentle with myself at this very strange time. And watch this space, because I promise that some day soon my mirth and my custom of exercise will return, at which point I'll show you guys some vegan cooking of which even my meat-and-butter-obsessed British mother would be proud.