My son came home from school sick the other day. While eating pea soup at the kitchen table, he told me what fun his health teacher is and how funny it was to rifle through her big box of condoms, birth control pills, diaphragms. I felt a little sick myself, about as green as the soup we were eating. Adam is newly thirteen, and while coming into his own, still–so young. I believe in sex ed in theory; in practice, I’m more ambivalent. Couldn’t he just not know for a while, let his head be filled with BB guns and video games and The Godfather and Wimpy Kid books, which he still reads? “I, uh, guess it’s kinda weird to, uh, learn about all that stuff when you’re not going to need it for a while…..” I trailed off limply. “Of course not, Mom, you don’t have to say, that, sheesh,” he said, in disgust. How uncool. But I wondered if part of being home sick was being confronted head on with “all that stuff,” with having to find some way to assimilate it and find a stance towards it. I remember my milder, less graphic, introduction when I asked my mother about the word ‘rape’ in sixth grade, and my shock and disgust when she described the terms of sex to me. I wanted mainly to forget about it, to go back to not knowing. I imagine that today’s kids aren’t that much different. It’s a big mystery to lean into, grow into, and it means leaving innocence behind. Sex ed is life-long; the technical information is the least of it.
In the last month, I have attended two funerals and a woman I have worked with at the Cancer center for eight years is dying. She is not my first participant to die–there have been three others. It has been a privilege to work with each person, and to be with them even as they part from us. As a young woman, I dreamed of all the trips I would take, the places I would visit, and death was not on that list. Death was like a faint rumor, one easy to refute. Now, it is clear I will probably not visit many of the places I’ve imagined, but I will take that final trip. So, I’ve suddenly become interested in home funerals, in the particulars of hospice. Like a child smuggling porn to try to figure out the adult world, I read about these things. Still, like that child, nothing will prepare me for the real thing. It has to be lived.
The day Adam came home from school, he made a sponge cake. He is mastering a repertoire of cakes. I lean towards stews, curries. The other night I made braised lamb shanks with red wine and basil with polenta. I seasoned it with the salt of my tears. I imagine that, overwhelmed with our various mysteries, we both find comfort in cooking, in the way of taking raw and inedible ingredients and transforming them into something sustaining and pleasurable. The cooking brings us into the moment, into our bodies, into the stream of life. Cooking helps us digest the indigestible. It is a gift we share, a pleasure beyond nourishment. Writing is like this, too. We take the raw ingredients of our lives, we cook them, offer our strange and particular melange in the hope of nourishing ourselves and others. Just as in the Jewish Seder, we taste our tears, the sweetness of our lives.