When we were kids, lunch was brown paper bags, maybe sometimes pizza from the concession stand. I loved lunch. By the time I was 13, I was packing my own, and it usually consisted of a sandwich (peanut butter and…
They say that love shows in the gestures–
A dash to the airport, a big diamond ring;
They say that this is what’s romance–
All that glitters,
All that sparkles,
All that’s bright and glossy,
(You know, those sorts of things).
True, you proposed: it was poetry,
All of your neat lines of verse, for me, arranged.
You made me a picnic and hid it,
A cooler packed with food and a ring,
Then you asked me,
And I said yes, and remember?
Right there, how everything changed?
It’s true, life is beautiful,
(We are happy,
We are together,
But, also true, life is painful,
And we’ve walked through dark times just the same.
What of the times pacing the halls?
The nights of long talks?
The physical pain,
The wounded hearts,
The crying out, over and over,
To God’s name?
It makes me think it’s love in the small and the hard things,
(Maybe the small and the hard things the most).
The dishes, the laundry,
The trash, the yard.
The kind words,
(When you want harsh words),
The soft words,
(When you want hard).
The long talks,
(When you are tired).
The stretched out arm,
(When you want to run).
Could love look like nights in the kitchen?
Like daily dinner?
Like, simply, life?
She said, “What we need is love that’s not tired*,”
What she said is, I guess, what I think.
Love shows itself in daily somethings,
Somethings as simple as this.
September 11, 2013 has been a beautiful day here in Nashville. Tim and I woke up early to grind popcorn kernels and make skillet cornbread. The cornbread was a dud, but Tim made a berry smoothie that wasn’t. Then, we drove through blue skies and bright sun to our car dealership, twenty minutes south, where a serviceman checked us in to get our air-conditioning fixed and asked the time: It was 9:11 AM on the nose.
Twelve years ago this morning, I was standing in a Wisconsin hotel, curling my hair, when my mom shouted from the TV in the main room, “Come look at this!” and I didn’t say anything, and we called my dad in Illinois, and he was crying. Today, I walked away from a serviceman and into a Tennessee car dealership lounge, where Tim and I would listen to someone making popcorn and watch a 10-month-old baby boy named John crawl around the room.
My mom and I were at that Port Washington hotel because I was scheduled for traffic court on September 11, for driving 24 miles over the speed limit a few months before. I remember telling the judge that day that I was sorry. “I don’t want to ever speed again,” I said to her when it was my turn. Everyone was talking about the planes and the towers, and there I was apologizing for something that was no one’s fault but my own. After court, we tried shopping, but our hearts weren’t in it. I wanted to drive back to school before dark. So my mom drove back to Naperville, and I drove back to college, and, when I got there, I returned to TVs all over campus, broadcasting live coverage of what was going on.
Today, Tim and I drove away from the car dealership and to the grocery store to pick up chicken; I had a dinner idea I told him I wanted to try. In the broad, bright Tennessee daylight, we cruised back up I-65 and then over to our house. We roasted spaghetti squash and tomatoes and chicken, and we boiled potatoes to combine with squash in a puree. We ate dinner by candlelight, the days shorter and the sun gone by before seven o’clock these days. And I exclaimed, over and over again out loud to Tim and Nathan, two men I’d never even met twelve years ago, about how much I liked the dinner tonight and how special it felt.
It occurs to me as I sit down on my bed tonight, fresh from this dinner, trying to write this post, how many people aren’t alive to be able to read it today. There are the ones killed by tragedy on this day twelve years ago, and there are the ones killed on other days by other things since then, from a Boston bombing to a Middle Eastern bombing to cancer to depression to kidney failure to old age. Even as I’ve been writing these thoughts, a mosquito has been bothering me, and I just, almost mindlessly, killed it between my hands and took it to the bathroom trashcan. Death is all around us. Life ends. We all know this, but there are a million ways to pretend it away—and in the pretending away, we miss something true. We are not promised tomorrow. Who of us knows when his or her life will end? Days like today, remembering and reflecting, it’s easy to see. We are finite. Our lives are short. And then, it’s easy to give thanks for the sheer blessing of living, of driving to the car dealership, of eating roast chicken in your dining room, of coming here to write about it in a blog post.
MY BODY WAKES UP BEFORE MY ALARM CLOCK THIS MORNING, so it’s at 6:42 that I’m turning off the timer before it sounds and stumbling to the bathroom a few feet away. I open the window shutters and brush my teeth, and when Tim doesn’t follow, I step back towards the bed and find myself crawling in.
“What time is it?” he asks me through half-opened eyes. “Are we getting up to walk?”
I pull the covers to my chin in our bedroom with the shades still shut and say, “Maybe we should walk tonight instead,” and Tim comes closer and rubs my side, and I think of my grandma and the way she’d scratch my back until I fell asleep at night and about the love it takes to do that for someone who is not yourself.
Yesterday, my friend Michele was in town. She took us out for brunch to Marché, my birthday breakfast choice from just a a few days before, saying, “I hope you’re not bored with this place,” to which I shook my head and said, “Listen, I could eat here every day!” Atop our white marble table we shared toast with homemade ricotta and sliced plums, and I ate a lamb gyro with the most tender meat and most buttery pita and a mess of bright tzatziki all over everything. Afterwards, I hugged my friend who is all life and travel and laughing, the same friend I feared for the year I met Tim, and I thought how sweet it is to have prayers answered and friends alive and thriving to eat brunch with, on mornings when they pass through Tennessee.
The night before Michele came, Tim’s brother was over for our usual Wednesday dinner, and he brought me birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and string, and we ate a typical Mallon hodge-podge dinner for three: homemade French fries and roasted peppers stuffed with cream cheese and pie pastry baked with tomatoes and basil into a tart.
It hit me this week that these are the things in my hands right now, in my 31st year, in August 2013. When I applied for college, back in 1999 (!), I had to predict where I’d be in five years, ten years, fifteen, and nothing I wrote in those essays figured a life that looks like this. I look around me some days and think, Why should I have a kind husband who loves me and hugs me and laughs with me early in the morning? Why should we be given breakfasts and lunches and a fridge full of food to eat? Man, we’re blessed to have friends who come take us to brunch. Man, we’re blessed to have mornings to linger in sleep longer, to decide to walk later, to be free.
And it also hits me that, from where I write this post right now, still in bed on Friday morning, my hands don’t look like yours. Maybe you have kids. Maybe you have a house. Maybe you wish for quiet mornings or maybe you wish for loud ones. Maybe you wish for hands to rub you to sleep at night; maybe you wish for fewer hands to surround you at all. Maybe you look at my hands and want to say, because they look different from your hands, “Why haven’t you guys done this yet or that?”
But whatever your life looks like, whomever it’s with, whatever work or school or family needs take up most of your days, your empty hands are being filled with it all, like my hands are being filled with it all, and, the truth is, a lot of what fills them is outside our control. It’s human to look at my hands and compare them to your hands. It’s natural to want to tell other people to fill their hands the same ways we’ve filled ours. But I didn’t meet Tim when I was 20 like I would have wanted to when I was 17. I didn’t get to have a baby at 23 and a full brood of little ones by age 30. I haven’t written a cookbook. I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved some great earthly success. Instead, I’ve been given grad school and travel and new friends and the most loving husband I have ever met, and along with them, I’ve been given a broken heart and rejection letters and a little blog that brings me a lot of joy. We all wish and desire and long for things, even as we hold good gifts of breakfasts and jobs and not getting everything we thought we would want. But it’s hitting me this week, this full week, that my hands are always holding something, like your hands are always holding something, and I’m so thankful for my somethings and for your somethings, and that they’re different. And that really our hands are always full.
Take a peach. A Georgia peach. Hold it in your hands, that peach with its fuzzy gold and crimson skin, that peach with its dimpled crevice pointing to a core. Take that peach when it’s good and ripe, soft enough to give when you push, sweet enough to smell from arm’s length. Slice it, bite it, taste its flesh; then tell me you know all there is to know in this life; tell me you, the one with juice dripping down your fingers and across your sleeve, you who took that fruit but couldn’t create it, tell me anything you will ever design, in all your life, that will be more right than this.
Telling you that today is the first Friday in 16 months that a 7 a.m. post didn’t publish here feels very meta, as one of my grad school professors used to say. Back in those days, when we were reading heavy essays by literary critics like Foucault, workshopping stories on a weekly basis, being ever surrounded by writers who were writing to other writers about writing, and then talking about it together, as writers, anyone who popped his or her head out of our little world for even a moment would see that meta discourse gets weird. A little too in your head. Analytical. Buried in layers. I had basically decided to avoid it here, no more blogging about blogging, you’re welcome, until here we were this Friday morning without a scheduled post, and so this afternoon I got thinking about the reasons we blog again (see “The Value of Blogging” or “Confessions on the Day before Four Years“), right as I scooped out the last bowl of tomato cobbler and ate.
I made the cobbler Wednesday afternoon.