Think about the best cake you’ve ever tasted or seen. This cake is better than that. It’s as satisfying as thanksgiving dinner without the food-baby or the turkey-fog. It melts in your mouth like bacon from a backyard BBQ. It makes you feel like a boss. It pumps you up like a lean, green, power smoothie. It makes you want to say, ‘check’s on me.’ Everyone needs to try this cake.
This has been my feast over the last six months, when all other food grew dim.
This post has been concocted with great debate, but I decided it was worth it. For those of you who don’t know me well, I’ve been living with what one could call a disability. It’s very unusual, although sometimes I’m able to hide it. I haven’t met anyone else in my situation, at least to this extreme. Daily, I am constantly reminded of how I am unable to participate in something every else takes for granted. There are many places and activities I can no longer enjoy. I have no choice.
So, I invite you to step into a very unusual experience for a moment. Let’s eat.
College graduation day, and Mt. Rainier was as glorious as a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Our heels echoed across the stage, cameras flashed, our faces ached, and our ears filled with the last words of university discourse. We had sweated and delighted over a lifetime of learning and awkward yearbook photos. Somehow, we had emerged as promising and better smelling adults. Bring it, real world. We’re ready. At least, we hope so.
This is the decade to get ahead, many say. Make the most of your twenties, because our choices now pave the foundation for success or failure. But I wish we could hear more about how to fall behind gracefully, stubbed toes still intact. Often our culture presents the false notion that our youth makes us invincible.
Several months later, I lay curled on my bed, filled with fire. How could this be from the salad I just ate? It couldn’t be the salad. I felt like I’d swallowed Smaug and all of his friends. Nothing helped. Yesterday, I had been packing boxes for my big move. Yesterday, I was celebrating my first big-girl job as a preschool teacher. I had fallen in love with fifteen bright, messy faces. In this other life of mine (still yesterday), I had savings to pay off student loans. Today, I couldn’t eat.
My doctor told me I would never have a normal life. Even with a good recovery from who-knows-what-just-happened, food would never be the same.
Excuse me, doctor, but I’m turning twenty-three in a couple weeks. I’m just getting started with this whole life thing. I’m still allowed to be spontaneous, right? You know, have a birthday cake, go out for drinks, weekend road trips, get a coffee with a friend, work out if I have the discipline…right?
Oh, if only.
Doctor, you’re basically telling me that I now have the life of an eighty or ninety year old. Meaning that health is my life. Meaning that I am just surviving. I just graduated and skipped the pink flamingo stage of retirement. I don’t even get Florida for a year? (I don’t even get to be this guy?)
Likely, a life-long, incurable, rare disease that no one has heard of. Or severe food allergies. Or a parasite infestation. So we prayed for a parasite. I don’t think God hears that one very often. God, I’ll take a six-inch tapworm. Seriously. Please.
The next four months of mystery included: weight loss, steroids and B12 shots, depression, a short term memory that would leave Dory in the bubbles, health bills, yelling children, crying children, sick children, sinus infections, a take-home stool test from hell, answering the awkward how-are-you-question, turning down a position with a prestigious magazine, a 23rd birthday without a cake, football without the beer and pizza, October without the pumpkin, Thanksgiving without the feast, Christmas without the chocolate. I brought tea bags from home to coffee shops. I tried 50 shades of Earl Grey. I had nightmares about breaking into bakeries and devouring every loaf inside. I read the Hunger Games on a liquid diet (worse idea ever). I went to three grocery stores looking for chicken broth, but my standards were so pure, even Whole Foods couldn’t help me. That made me the biggest snob in Seattle. I even dreamt that my doctor sat me down and said, ‘Kendra, we were wrong all along. You’re pregnant.’ Pregnant??! I spent the rest of the dream frantically searching for the head of whoever did this to me. I nearly lost my own head too in the process. My only conclusion was that I somehow had become the next Virgin Mary.
And speaking of miracles, it’s beyond my comprehension how I kept my job. (A day in the classroom feels like:)
Thankfully, the pain slowly faded, but food remained like a Taylor Swift song. We just kept breaking up and getting back together. However, I was able to maintain the diet of a cavewoman. Lots of steak, salt, limited soft vegetables and fruit. The day I tried acorn squash again, I nearly burst into an aria. I had just tasted manna in the desert.
While I wandered in this perpetual desert, something startling was also happening. I began to uncover a darker side to the food culture I had left behind. It just kept getting darker and darker. If you want, you can read more here: https://kendraleah.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/what-we-need-to-hear-but-probably-wont-want-to/
But let’s get back to culture part of food culture that is valuable and enriching. Back to a ritual that runs as deep as our blood. Whether we’re breaking bread, or shellfish or raising our chopsticks together, it’s all about being in a community. It’s about the body and the soul. Eat, drink, and be merry, the proverb says. Food brings us together. Food, culture, and relationships are invisible and second nature to us unless the threads are severed.
This is where the cake of friendship comes in.
See, if your world as you knew it is over forever, the things of lesser importance slip away. I realized who the people in my life truly were. And I hope that you are blessed as I have been by sweet and savory friends. They’re essential for being able to laugh in the storms that knock down our front doors. They’re our raincoats, the splash of yellow in a roar of grey. We can either laugh or cry, so let us laugh. We can survive with acquaintances, but we cannot truly live without friends.
And it is simple. Laughing over a silly chick flick, phone calls, strolls outside, card games, visits with family, prayer, hoping, complaining, hoping, despairing, hoping again. It is celebrating twenty-three years with paintbrushes and ceramics instead of cocktails and pizza. It is the joyful, continual realization that you are loved, even when you can barely walk up stairs. It is singing about the wonder of peanut butter. It is rejoicing over the big milestones, like being able to join a choir and play flute again.
Dear friends who are reading this, your company has been the perfect feast.
I received some wonderful news just in time for Christmas. My gut is finally absorbing and digesting normally again, which means I’m getting the nutrition I need. I’ve gained twenty pounds. Although vague, the future is hopeful. I’m on probiotics, likely disease-free, and I couldn’t be happier to live in each moment. I don’t want to even miss a millisecond.
Yes, I eat pretty much the same meal every day. For example, I’ve had oatmeal three times a day, every day, for about four months…so probably around 350 bowls so far. Talk about boring. I haven’t eaten at a restaurant for six months. I can’t take communion at church. I can’t drink at bars. I eat my apples organic, in sauce, in slices, and in butter form. The only spices I can use are salt and ginger. If I could just be gluten-free or lactose-intolerant, I would throw a huge party.
But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t matter. I so clearly see what I have now.
So friends, let us eat cake.