A few weeks ago, I realized that if I didn’t amend my current intake of multiple spoonfuls of Nutella for breakfast, Banana mit nutella for lunch, and bread mit Nutella for dinner, I might just explode. Or, at least not fit into my formal gown for the Marine Ball. Either way, it would be a tragedy. “Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria” (name that movie). And I thought, “What the heck…let’s get jiggy with it and go all gluten free and stuff.” Ok, so that wasn’t my exact thought but it was pretty close.
I have a pantry of gluten-free goodness in my home (my son has Celiac Disease) and I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a lesson in empathy for those that can’t eat wheat, rye, barley, and most oat products (Celiacs also risk eating gluten in every day items such as vitamins and medicines, cross-contaminated spices, or when it’s hidden in artificial or natural flavors). I didn’t think it could hurt to increase the number of fruits and vegetables I was eating and decrease the carbs either. Of course, losing a bit of water-weight from overdoses of sugar and salty refined carbs was what was most attractive (and even if it ended up that all I lost was water-weight, I thought my girdle and my seamstress would thank me later).
It started out great…Caprese salad for breakfast, veggies with Sour Rahm and gluten-free sausages for lunch, some rice cakes scattered here and there (European-chocolate covered, nummy) and a hearty dinner with lots of good protein, salad with homemade dressing, and either potatoes, rice, or corn-based products for the starch. Now, I don’t need to tell you that my supposed Mormon-born cooking ability has lagged in the past few years. And so this venture into empathetic eating was a welcome change from our scramble-at-dinnertime-routine that we had mastered since moving overseas.
Sometimes my life reminds me of a therapy session that Anne Lamott describes in her book “Operating Instructions.” Her therapist has a “sand tray” where you choose an array of objects that “call to you.” You arrange them in the tray and then talk about why those objects were chosen. She says, “Now, this is scary stuff for a cerebral type, because it takes you to places you couldn’t get on your own–it rolfs old body memories out of you. I mean, who needs it, right? It’s so much easier and more comfortable to stay at one’s current level of mental illness.”
So often I have thought that staying at my current-level-of-whatever was much better than stretching, opening, being born into something unknown, scary, possibly worse. But on that day a few weeks ago, I decided to go gluten free and I found some things out. One, I feel fantastic (depression lifted, I can run and laugh with my kids for the first time in months). And two, that my son’s diet is not “weird” or “hard” or a handicap in an otherwise “normal” life.
It reminded me of a quote in Wallace Stegner’s “The Spectator Bird” when Joseph Allston describes the relationship he has with his wife, “It is something–it can be everything–to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters, while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”
My family, hubby and children, have often been the “something I can’t handle” but they have also been the ones to lead me to birth and re-birth, to coddle my wounds in their all-inclusive love, to flop their stinky bodies on me and exclaim their affection with unadulterated freedom.
It turns out that my little empathy experiment was more than sacrifice, more than a change of diet, more than a way to lose weight for a ball. You see, I was finding bugs and seeds for my fellow inmates here in our rafter. And while I know that “it can be everything” to serve others while being kind to ourselves, I also have never actually KNOWN what it feels like to really strap on someone else’s boots and take a ride.
It was thrilling. It was a craft of my own making, an ongoing art piece stitched into the seams of my skin. In Eudora Welty’s “The Optimist’s Daughter,” Laurel describes a memory of her mother explaining the meaning of a prized possession. “The most beautiful blouse I ever owned in my life–I made it. Cloth from Mother’s own spinning, and dyed a deep, rich, American Beauty color with pokeberries…I’ll never have anything to wear that to me is as satisfactory as that blouse.”
I’ll never have anything to eat as satisfactory as what my son can eat. I’ll never have any more joy than through living, thriving, and being the person that I am and the one that I intend to grow into. I’ll never feel more love than in the small and unimportant circle that I find right here, under my roof, in this community, in this country, under this beautiful God-painted sky.