If we gleaned one clear, definitive message in the course of this year, it’s the importance of who you call your friends not the stuff you have. This morning, I spent close to four hours of presence on various tools talking to some of my dearest friends in the world. And I mean all over the world – South Africa, New York, New Orleans.
Yesterday, as I drove home from my 4.4 mile walk (up from the usual 3.4 mile walk due to exuberance about the possibility of breaking 1000 miles this year), I listened to our local radio station KCRW, and heard one of the most powerful conversations I’ve heard in a while. Rabbi Steve Leder interviewed by Jonathan Bastion (Life Examined) led us through a consideration of the power of death as a teacher in our lives, and of the overall pandemic and its unrelenting lessons about life through death. Through it all, he expresses optimism. Though I consider myself an agnostic and on some days, an atheist, I really am a religious opportunist. I look for spiritual lessons wherever I can get them. I urge you to listen to this podcast, whatever your spiritual seasoning. I’m what I’d call an extremely well seasoned person.
The summer of my eighteenth year, I spent the summer in San Francisco, living with my Dad and my stepmother. Several of my close college friends were there that summer. Bob (with whom I chat every Sunday morning) was there. He and our friend Bill and I worked at Macy’s, in their inventory department. I remember wearing our rolling skates to circulate among the shelves in the stock room. On Sundays, our friend Bill Clark and I rode busses all over San Francisco, sampling church services in search of a spiritual home. Every Sunday we chose a different denomination. My own Pennsylvanian protestant upbringing was a buffet – a little Methodism here, a little Lutheran there (I loved the Lutherans because they sang a lot, but they knelt a little too much for my taste) and finally, confirmation in the Presbyterian Church. There we had a steady diet of Sunday school, multiple seasonal fairs in the basement of the big church, and ultimately confirmation. As a young teenager, I bounded off to the high Episcopal boarding school where I learned that they, too, loved to sing, their songs feeling more like raucous drinking songs: “Hail thee festival days.” It was all I could do to not gesture with a virtual stein in my hand during the multiple choruses, sung by 400 less-than-cherubic scions in the beautiful chapel.
So that summer, after our Freshman year at Princeton, Bill and I would stand and wait for the bus. We even had a song, “Come on Bussy Bussy.” We chanted it and giggled as we waited for the bus which would potentially bring us to our spiritual home. After witnessing each service, we’d dissect the experience on the bus as we headed home. We never found a church we really liked or wanted to commit to- except the church of friendship right there in the liminal space between us. Did we realize we’d found it? We lost Bill way too early from AIDS. But I can still picture him grinning as he chants, “Come on Bussy Bussy.”
Boy did I digress there. Forgive me.
Anyway, my dear friend and denizen of New Orleans, Ando, called me this morning to ask if I wanted back the first edition of A Room of One’s Own that I’d given to her about twenty years ago. Ando was asking because it had belonged to my Mom and was signed in her spidery signature in the front of the book. I closed my eyes, opened the book, holding it in my hands and witnessing her signature in my mind’s eye. I confidently said “No, Ando, you keep it.”
As Rabbi Leder said at one point in the interview, “No one wants your damn stuff.” I repeated this to Ando and we laughed. Friends as old as Ando and I are have a lot in common. In the course of our conversation today, we laughed about the phase of Feng Shui we’d gone through together years ago, which birthed the gift of the Virginia Woolf book. It was as a friend supporting another’s desire to write by giving her a physical manifestation of a woman who had found the space to do so. How sweet that Ando was now reaching back to me to see if I wanted that gift back, to welcome my mom back into my life. I assured her that she’s here, and not in the stuff, but in her actions and her legacy of writing and ethics. She is the writer in me, and the appreciator of my brothers and of the variety and richness lived.
So back to the “nobody wants your damn stuff” concept. While chatting with Bob and Susan this morning, my brain got stuck in the messiness of my cup cupboard. I resolved while we spoke, to go through the contents and clear them out to make enough space for my new mugs. That began a process that went much deeper, involving four shelves and the pantry cabinet as well. As I shifted the contents of these cupboards, clearing out things which had little meaning, I rediscovered the original labels I’d applied to the shelves in the pantry and returned to those. While I cleaned, I baked a chicken and a persimmon pudding. Which reminds me. The persimmons were a gift from my dear friend Marykate. She and I walk on Wednesdays together and I’d given her the last persimmon pudding I’d made. She asked if I wanted some more persimmons, and I’m so happy that I said yes. She shared this story which made me laugh even again today as I peeled the persimmons before pureeing them for the pudding.
A few years ago, one of her friends was taking a walk in the neighborhood when an elderly Vietnamese grandmother with a child on her hip came towards him, saying eagerly,
“You like eating pussy, man?”
MK’s friend blushed and started to continued to walk, but she came towards him opening the white bag she had in her hands and saying again, persistently, “You like eating pussy, man?” He looked in the bag, only to see half a dozen orange colored persimmons resting in the bottom of the bag. Gratefully, and somewhat abashedly, he took the bag from the woman and said “Thank you.”
I debated as to whether I could share that story here, but couldn’t resist. It still makes me smile, even as I pulled the persimmon pudding out of the oven just now.
For those of you who don’t know about persimmon pudding which is really more of a cake, I refer you to the recipe on the recipe pages which seem to have become hidden in this version of my WordPress blog. The page is called “Recipes from My Mothers” – Joan’s Persimmon Pudding with Hard Sauce. Hopefully you can access it from that link. Let me know in the comments if you can’t and perhaps I’ll roll out a new format for my blog in 2021 that allows for multiple pages again.
Here are a few photos of my reorg today. Cups all fit on one shelf, cookbooks consolidated. Previous baking shelf has been relocated to allow for Storage containers which used to live on top of the spices. Now everything is more accessible resulting in a well-seasoned chicken and a persimmon pudding. And four hours today of what really matters. Friends.