I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.A. H. Maslow
Would you like to a know an interesting—or, at the very least, a rather eccentric—fact about me? I wake up every morning thinking about dinner. It’s true. Every morning over coffee I begin thinking about what I might want to cook that evening. It gives me something pleasant to look forward to at the day’s end, a way to exercise my creativity and, of course, to celebrate my love of food (because I do love to eat every bit as much as I love to cook).
And for as trivial as a ritual like this may seem, I can tell you there was a time in my life when it was a necessity. That is, when it actually saved me. Indeed, about 15 years ago, as I was just learning how cook (taking lessons from Ina Garten, Lidia Bastianich, and other of my favorite celebrity chefs), I was also quickly coming to the realization that I wasn’t cut out for corporate life. I had made a series of what were, in retrospect, really, really bad decisions that landed me in a job I hated. What I hated even more was who I was becoming as a result. I was living alone in a studio apartment in a new city (my first time in a big city). Partying way too hard. And I had very few friends outside of work. I was lost. I had no plan, no idea how to turn things around or how to start over. I also had no money. But, I had dinner.
Every morning, I’d get out of bed and start thinking about dinner. That was the highlight of my day. And as my disillusionment with work grew to intolerable proportions, cooking became more than just a hobby or a distraction. It became a reason. It became a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It became a reason to muddle through the day, to do what needed to be done, no matter how much I despised it, because at the end of the day, I had dinner. I could come back to my little apartment, pour a glass of wine, put some music on, and cook. And for that short time, all was right in the world. When the rest of my life was falling apart, when I was lonely and afraid, depressed and self-destructive, I had dinner. And it was dinner that kept me going. It was dinner that got me through it.
So, why the story? Especially now that this particular ritual has lost its dire undertones. And comes from a place of creativity, celebration, and aliveness instead. Because of the lessons it’s taught me, of course. About my reasons for living. About what it means to live a life worth living, which for me, means a life that is lived right now. A life that is, in some sense, its own reason for living.
And it’s not rooted in the big stuff, either. It’s not a career or feelings of achievement or esteem. It isn’t thought about. Made manifest in a list of aspirations or things to be thankful for. Isn’t tied to a goal. And it’s not got a 5- or 10- year plan. (Thank God. I’ve always been terrible at those.) It’s dinner. It’s watching the birds and riding a bicycle or going for a hike on a warm, sunny day. It’s cutting up old magazines and making them art. It’s really listening to and appreciating the people who are important to me. Reading an old paperback book and relishing in the texture and smell of the pages. Learning what I’m capable of and using those capacities to experience the world in new, exciting, and creative ways. Transforming drudgery into humble acts of celebration and gratitude, everyday as I am able.
The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard…To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.A. H. Maslow
A different way of looking at “the used life,” perhaps. As a means of using our capacities to create a firm foundation. As a way of coping with stress, overwhelm, and crisis. We’ve all got to have something—some series of behaviors, rituals, activities, skills—that make life worth living when it doesn’t feel that way. As for me, mine are rooted in the stuff of daily life. I have discovered that, no matter where I am, as long as I am making use of the present—by being creative, by using my body, by engaging my senses to the fullest and fulfilling the single most important responsibility I have to myself—to be alive— the miraculous is always in my backyard. It’s in my neighbors, my friends and loved ones. It’s in the birds and the butterflies. And, of course, it’s always in my kitchen. It’s dinner, friends. It’s dinner.