There’s a meme floating around Facebook right now that makes me happy every time it pops up in my newsfeed.
Set against a backdrop of gold and crimson trees, it features a quote from everyone’s favorite Edwardian redhead, Anne of Green Gables. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
So am I, Anne. So, am I.
I’m particularly grateful I live in a world with this October. Not because of the turning leaves, turtleneck sweaters, and advent of all things pumpkin—although I am grateful for those things. On a normal year, I can get my fall on with the best of them. But this year, I’m grateful simply because the arrival of October means the Summer of 2015 is over and done with. Goodbye. Good riddance. Sayonara.
As far as seasons go, I’ve had worse than this past summer. There were still lovely visits with friends and family, lots of fun outings and evenings with my Christopher, and even a trip or two.
But, despite the good that was, most of the summer felt like one of those anxiety dreams, where you can’t quite move fast enough…or move at all…where some event is spinning wildly out of control and no matter how hard you try, you’re powerless to change anything.
These past few months, I’ve been caught up in an awful vortex of anxiety, work, and pain: a book project I just couldn’t seem to complete, no matter how much I worked; house projects, with which I needed help that I couldn’t find; surgery, which caused more complications than expected; and one mysterious pain after another, which no amount of medical testing or voodoo witchery (aka naturopath doctor) could explain.
If you’re familiar with the temperaments, I’m a classic choleric, with just enough melancholic in me to make me bearable. Which means I’m a doer. Planning, working, bringing order to my world and sticking to a schedule—all of that keeps me sane. It helps me feel like I have some measure of control over my life. Or, more accurately, it allows me to live in the illusion of control.
Normally, I can live in that illusion quite comfortably. Very little stops me. I power through stress and power through pain, gaining energy as I tick off items on my to-do list. Six years ago, after I had major open abdominal surgery, I was walking laps around the hospital less than 16 hours after they wheeled me out of recovery. A few weeks later, I was hosting a sit-down Thanksgiving for two-dozen adults and their children.
That’s me. At least, that’s normally me. But not this summer. This summer, I couldn’t power through. I couldn’t catch up. I couldn’t wrestle everything under control. Order was always just out of reach.
So, first blogging stopped. Then, dinner parties stopped. After that, cooking stopped. Eventually, just about everything, save for writing and being with the boyfriend, stopped. By the middle of September, movement itself stopped. A walk to the kitchen for a drink of water left me in debilitating pain. I couldn’t shower without tears.
It was horrible. Humiliating. And humbling. For all that I can wax poetic about the power of suffering, I’m awful at actually doing it. I didn’t want to offer it up for the salvation of souls or the state of the world. I didn’t want to accept it. I just wanted it to be over. I hated having to ask for help. I hated feeling like a burden. I hated every moment of it. I didn’t feel like me anymore. Without my ability to do, I didn’t know who I was.
Which, of course, is part of the gift of physical suffering. It’s also part of the gift of aging.
Injury, illness, old age—all of it strips us of the things we think are “us,” the things we think make us valuable, important, and worthy of love. What remains after that stripping is the real us, the unique human being created by God, loved by God, and alive because of God. In suffering, in weakness, we find ourselves. We stand naked before our Creator and have to look on ourselves as we truly are—the good, the bad, and the shockingly ugly.
It’s a frightening task, but it comes with the most necessary reminder we’ll ever receive: the sheer fact of our existence is a gift, unmerited and unearned. We don’t matter because we cook or write or run fast. We matter because we breathe.
In our moments of greatest helplessness, God shows us that. If we let him, he helps us see ourselves in relation to him and him alone. And as we do that, we realize that none of the rest really matters, even the good stuff like golden leaves and pumpkin spice lattes. It all falls away, having served its purpose of bringing us closer to him.
For most of us, those lessons are learned in passing seasons of pain or sorrow. Some—those with special needs or chronic illness—live in that season always, reminding us more than themselves of what makes a life matter. But again, for most of us, the suffering passes, health or calm returns, and we move on into a different season of life.
I think I’m moving on now. The book is off. The house projects are almost done. And the pain, although not gone, has significantly abated. We still don’t know what causes it. Frankly, my money is on stress.
Regardless, with the change of the seasons, a new season for me is here as well. I’m cooking again, taking pictures of what I’m cooking, and even have plans for a little party next week. I’m thankful for a new season, just as I’m learning to be thankful for the season now past.
All of which is to say, that barring acts of God, The Catholic Table is open for business once more.
Yes, I know. I could have said that by simply posting a recipe.
Regardless, if you’ve made it to the end of this rambling, reflective, decidedly un-foodie like post, I leave you with this parting (and somewhat relevant) thought.
For as much as this blog sings the praises of hosting and hospitality, if you’re currently in a season where cooking a meal or throwing a party sounds like a fancy pipe dream, the stuff of fairy tales or fantasy stories, don’t worry. Don’t fret. Don’t feel guilty. This is the season you’re in. There are other lessons to be learned now, other tasks to be carried out. Someday, this season will pass, new seasons will come, and with them, new recipes and new excuses for showing others your love.
But, for those of you who are in a season where hosting and cooking and drinking are possible, don’t let it go to waste. There are people out there who need you to invite them in. There are people who need your time, your energy, and your pumpkin soup—people who can’t take care of themselves right now, some who aren’t even sure they’re worth taking care of. Show them they’re wrong.
And with that, I’m off to walk…slowly. I’ve got lots of new recipes in the queue, and will be featuring autumn favorites for the next several weeks, starting (later this week) with Pan-Fried Gnocchi, tossed with Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Brown Butter.
Oh, it’s good to be alive.