12.25.09 Joy to the World
Seven years ago, I made a Christmas picnic on top of the bed where my then-husband lay dying of cancer. He was home for the holidays, having just been released from the hospital after undergoing major surgery to remove a part of his spinal column that was infested with tumor. He was grateful just to be able to lie in his own bed and wolf down some foie gras on toast. (He was quite possibly the original glutton for life.) My gift from him that year was a watch, and I remember being painfully aware of the irony. On its face, I would measure the last moments of his life. I could not have imagined then what my own life would become. That I would discover a new fulfillment and joy, that I would marry again, seemed impossible at the time. But we must find a way to forge ahead, to believe in possibility and renewal.
Of course we'll always encounter personal setbacks and daunting challenges. And the world beyond us seems to be endlessly plagued by horrors: the ritual circumcision of young girls in Africa; a politician in our own midst who trots out her mongoloid child to play on the sympathies of an evangelized mob; thousands of dolphins brutally stabbed to death every year in a secret cove in Taiji, Japan; the increasingly pneumatic contours of artificially enhanced breasts and lips; natural resources dwindling at an alarming rate...and yet. A cardinal just landed on a branch outside my window, its color vivid against the snow. I can hear the snap of the fire in the next room. On this day, all over the world, even atheists like me are finding things for which to be thankful. Those things we can still cultivate, that they can never take from us: love; compassion; hope; serenity; humor. In my darkest hours, I have clung to this Zen koan, There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.
When all else fails, put a pot on the stove, toss in some ingredients and make a soup that soothes, body and soul. That's what I'll be doing with my favorite new present, this stunning and shockingly heavy Japanese clay donabe, or hot pot. Lucky me, the other part of the gift is a cookbook, Japanese Hot Pots, by Tadashi Ono, the chef at Matsuri, one of my favorite restaurants in New York where I've been known to order the salmon hot pot, brimming with fish and tofu and chrysanthemum leaves. I'll be exploring these one-pot meals in the next few months, ideal cold-weather eating that is packed with nutritious ingredients. I hope you'll join me down this path to happiness.