April 11, 2016
My friend Courtney’s mama died yesterday. The news did not come as a surprise, rather more like relief, for it meant the end of a particular kind of suffering, the, tangible, physical pain that comes when a body’s systems break down, the kind of pain that doctors treat with IV opioids and pain patches. It is not pretty when a body stops working, because it usually doesn’t happen right away. There is waiting. There are uncomfortable chairs. There are people—so many people—who have no idea what to say to you or how to be with you, so they say and do profoundly unhelpful things. If you’re lucky, there are nurses (maybe a doctor, too, but it’s almost always the nurses) who do know what to say, or at least know what not to say, and they make things even just the slightest bit better. Strangers offer kindnesses that feel so extravagant you fear you might break into pieces.
Witnessing pain is its own form of suffering, and I’m glad that one is over as well; not only that Mikie doesn’t have to suffer anymore, but that Courtney doesn’t have to watch it happen anymore. Yet, death is always the start of something, too—it is the beginning of an existence that necessarily contains absence. An existence built on the ground of grief—ground that, for a fair while, feels much too shaky to support anything but despair, apathy, and rage.
Yesterday I went to the gym and took a shower and had lunch with my mom and bought my son a sugar cookie in the shape of a ladybug. I broke a head of orange cauliflower into pieces with my hands, coated those pieces with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and two kinds of paprika, slid them into the oven under the broiler. I stood with my oil-slicked and spiced hands for a minute, watching my son out the window as he played in the backyard. Paprika made the cut on my right thumb sting. This body will not last forever. The laundry needs to be folded. It’s everything, all at once.
We do badly in this culture with death. We do not look endings in the eye. We distract and offer platitudes or turn and run out of sheer avoidance; we are too antsy to bear witness. We fill with chatter rather than sit in silence. Courtney and her mama have reminded me what a disservice we do when we walk through this life and ignore what it is we’re all inevitably walking toward. Death is not the enemy. Rather, mortality is the the reality that grounds us all, and to live estranged from or in denial of such truth only robs us of the chance to be fully present for all of what life brings.
“[T]he more you’re here and the more you’re alive, the more you realize you’re a mortal human being. And that you’ll pass from this place. And will you actually turn up? Will you actually have the conversation given that it’s so — will you become a full citizen of vulnerability, loss, and disappearance, which you have no choice about?” —David Whyte
adapted from Food52
We really loved this dish—Jill had it as a side to go along with a pork chop she’d grilled, and I, who am in the middle of a Hindu holy week and not eating meat, enjoyed it without the sausage component and with some plain yogurt on the side. Shiv ate a whole bowl full of it, too.
I’d never broiled cauliflower before, and I think it might be my new favorite way to cook it! I adapted the original recipe to suit what I had in the house, and it turned out beautifully, but no doubt the original is delicious as well.
1 head cauliflower, approx. 2 lb
5 cloves garlic, peeled & halved lengthwise
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 T sweet paprika
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled & cut into wedges
2 carrots, peeled & coarsely grated
2 oz. cured chorizo or other cured/smoked sausage, cut into pieces (I used some home-smoked duck sausage that Jill had made & warmed it up in some olive oil before adding)
1/3 cup toasted nuts of your choice (original recipe calls for pine nuts; I used sliced almonds. I think walnuts would also work well here.)
1/4 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
dash of something acidic—fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, etc.
Break/cut the cauliflower florets and stems into small pieces. If the green leaves on your cauliflower look fresh, set them aside for later.
Place the cauliflower and sliced garlic into a large bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil, turning with your hands to coat. Add the spices and turn again until everything is well-combined. Turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet, then slide into the oven under the broiler. Broil for 7-10 minutes, or until you start to see some color on the cauliflower.
Pull the baking sheet out and add the cauliflower leaves and the onion. Return the sheet to the oven and broil for an additional 3-5 minutes. Slide the cooked cauliflower & onion into a large serving bowl, then add the carrot, nuts, sausage, and parsley. Toss well, then taste and add your acid accordingly, plus any additional salt & pepper you may need—I used just a dash of red wine vinegar and a little extra sea salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.