While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week. What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening. Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.
My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last). What poor flawed creatures! In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.
So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle! To sizzling peppers in a pan over the flame, to share. Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure?
It has to be yes. In my kitchen, moral questions like these touch on either Torah or Tolstoy. Last night it was Tolstoy who imagines his character Pierre, in War and Peace, as a wartime captive witnessing the execution of prisoners. He sees an abyss, an unpassable wound. He can’t imagine how his world can continue. Unexpectedly, a peasant appears at his side, and says, “just eat this potato.” Generosity intrudes unexpectedly, and Pierre begins his repair.
One person’s potato is another’s oyster or apple. Or fig jam. Or fresh bread. Chicken tagine with lemon and olives. Salt cod with peppers. Once we get started, there really is no end.