I just realized something. I didn’t even know I was missing these pieces, this peace. I had dinner at a friend’s house and got a little overwhelmed. She invited us over for a home-cooked meal and it nourished me in my soul as well as my body.
We’ve been meeting with these friends like this once a month or so for about a year or so. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are lucky to get 24 hours notice that we are invited. I feel a bit awkward that it isn’t reciprocal, these invitations.
Our house is small and messy. Sometimes there isn’t enough room for even two in our house. I bought the house when I was single thinking I’d stay that way. One of the people helping me move ended up moving in. He was the one I’d been waiting for but I didn’t realize it.
While I love him, I don’t love his stuff and it gets in the way of my neatnik tendencies. In short, I’m embarrassed to have people over without a huge push to relocate a lot of stuff. I’m grateful our friends understand and we try to even things out by bringing over food if we can -cooked vegetables, salad fixings, dessert. It never seems like enough. It never seems that we are equal in our contributions. They almost always provide the main dish. They almost always provide more than we are able to. In part it is because of the very impromptu nature of these invitations.
A whim, a new recipe, a realization for a desire for company – whatever the reason, we sometimes don’t have time to prepare something special for four. That, coupled with the fact that these gatherings almost never happen at our house make the relationship a bit lopsided in terms of reciprocity. They clean their house for company, and we can’t.
I felt overwhelmed this evening eating homemade chicken marsala made from scratch. Everything we had was from scratch, like usual. I noticed I was being filled in an unexpected way. It was more than my stomach that was being satisfied – it was my soul as well.
My Mom didn’t cook from scratch unless company came over – and that happened about as often as holidays. It didn’t happen on holidays mind you. This is just to say it was rare to see anyone at the table other than my parents and my brother. Therefore it was rare to see homemade food at the table as well.
Our meals usually were from the freezer, not from scratch. Our basic needs were being met like that – basically. We got enough to get by. Even the environment the food was cooked in was less than ideal when I was growing up. Both my parents smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. That, coupled with the fact that our dog was paper trained – and the papers were in the kitchen – created a less than ideal environment for healthy food production. Secondhand smoke and dog poop aren’t the smells you want wafting in the air intermingling with your dinner entrée.
I realized tonight that I was having a piece of me restored and I didn’t even know I was missing. I’d grown up minus this part I needed without even realizing it.
I was missing the simple honesty of a meal cooked and offered with love. Rather than a meal cooked to fill a need, this meal was extra. It filled more than my daily requirement of the USDA suggested amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamin C. There is no place in the nutritional requirements label for love.
Maybe that was the problem. All those meals from boxes were cooked following the instructions but there was no instruction for love. My Mom didn’t learn to put in that ingredient because it wasn’t in the box. And I didn’t know that I grown up deficient in that basic building block. It is like I had rickets or scurvy but it wasn’t vitamin D or C I was missing.
Homemade, made not just in a house but in a home makes the difference. And what makes a home a home? Intention, focus, individuality, being awake are starters. Sure, frozen pizza can be “homemade” with awareness and mindfulness. Add some shredded Parmesan cheese and some Italian herbs and yours is uniquely yours and not the same as every other box pizza. And even “homemade” can be blasé if made without feeling or focus. We have to put a little extra into our food and into everything if we want them to be real.
In Hebrew the word is kavanah, which is a bit like focus, a bit like intention. We need to pray with kavanah at a minimum but really we need to live with it. And that’s part of it. With kavanah, the meal becomes a vehicle for nourishment of the soul. With kavanah, the prayer becomes a vehicle for transforming not just the self but also the world.