“I am what I am. To look for reasons is besides the point.”
Joan Didion wrote this.
Still, we find ourselves continually looking for reasons. We search and peer and squint, pointing our finger at just one more circumstance, one more habit, one more practice that we could – should? – change in order to become better. We tailor ourselves to one another, we try on different skirts.
Some fit, and we think, Ah, there.
We play dress-up, like children.
Once, after a long winter, on the first sunny day where energy arrived as if pre-packaged in a vial, I let Bee go crazy in the kitchen. Make whatever recipe you’d like, I said. Let creativity abound!
Ketchup soup, she chose. We littered the counters with bottles from the fridge, jars from the pantry. Ketchup, almonds, cocoa powder, leftover pasta, an apple. A handful of dates (pits in). A few olives. Everything in the blender.
It smelled like what you’d imagine.
And this is life without a recipe.
It is sometimes fun, creative, magic. Your pulse quickens with it all – the sun’s energy, the countertop mess, the spontaneity. Sometimes, it tastes glorious.
Other times, pure garbage.
And so, we have made it our practice to peek at one anothers’ recipes. We forget that we are but children experimenting with ketchup soup in our parents’ kitchen. Few of us consulting cookbooks. All of us leaving messes behind, feeling empowered, traces of dried tomatoes on our linen aprons.
Who taught us this was a life?
We did, of course.
We do, of course.
We spend our time running circles around ideas, sharing TED talks, suggesting life-changing mascara tips, refilling our coffee. Together, we seek some human version of enlightenment.
And when we fall short, we say it often: Nobody’s perfect. No one has it all.
But that’s only the half of it, isn’t it?
The whole of it: We are not yet wise.
We are only children, standing on our tiptoes in ruffled socks, pointing to our makeshift ingredients, blending it all, calling it good.
My grandmother made the most beloved New England shrimp dip. We all looked forward to it annually, and it would show up like savory magic in a Lenox dish every Thanksgiving, often Christmas, occasionally Easter if we were lucky.
We’d urge her to write it down, to share it with us, perhaps we could tackle it for a summer barbecue?
When she finally did, dementia had found her. She’d written sour cream instead of cream cheese, made a few mistakes in the serving size of the garlic.
I haven’t tasted her shrimp dip since. I never could decipher the correct recipe.
And this is how it is. We work within our own limitations, passing around flawed serving sizes. Try this, we say. Here’s a pinch of advice, we offer.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes, we’re just sullying each other’s aprons.
But there is a cookbook, I believe. One that offers true wisdom, real guidance, perfect love. I reference it often, but in the busier times, I’m prone to leaving it on the nightstand closed, dusty, in lieu of something more palatable. Someone else’s recipe.
Just seems easier, twisted as it may be.
I wonder often if exposing our greatest flaws is the right thing to do. If shouting our shortcomings, our moments of weakness, our repeated bouts of laziness, of wrongdoing, of judgment — will this make us all better?
Or will it just make us all feel better?
There is a difference.
I don’t know how to outrun the trap of people-pleasing, of measuring, of comparison. I don’t know how to grow entirely into my own skin, vessels and veins stretching with tension. I don’t know how to fully accept my flaws; I don’t know how to fully accept yours. I don’t know how to avoid living the life of a sous chef, cooking someone else’s recipe. Or worse, watering down my own.
But I’m learning, I think.
And I know that on the day of the ketchup soup, on the day of the great kitchen experiment, Bee asked if I could fix her botched creation.
Can you make it better? she says.
And I know that my answer was simple.
I don’t know how, I say. I think we just need a better recipe.