My nephew (two years old in less than three weeks!) does this thing where he covers his eyes tightly when faced with something he deems unpleasant. At one time it was a person who half-chided him for doing something he wasn’t supposed to at a get-together. For the rest of the party, my sister said, every time Jacob came face to face with him he covered his eyes. More recently, it was a bowl of mixed fruit. He wanted only the papaya so he shut his eyes while he was being fed anything other than what he wanted.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch a child encounter the good in their world. The way they make games out of stationary objects we walk past without attention everyday – the handles on doors, the plants in the room, the buttons we push only out of necessity. While this play isn’t always met with approval, every reaction to it is teaching them something valuable about themselves and how the world sees their behaviour. Maybe the main reason why we love it so much is that it’s teaching us something about ourselves too.
It’s all the more special to watch them encounter adversity or what passes for it in their minds. Like an unwanted grape or the stare of a friend-turned-foe, Jacob mastered out-of-sight-out-of-mind. When my sister and mother told me these separate stories, I laughed. It’s funny, even though it probably wasn’t very comfortable to be in his shoes in those moments. But more than just a humorous situation, it was a teachable one for me.
In the days and weeks following the death of my father, so many of the people I thought were close to me and my family reacted to us in the same way a two-year-old child did to fruit. They put their hands over their eyes. The same people who had empathy for tragedies of strangers were at a loss for words when it came to comforting a person that was more familiar. I won’t mask the anger that I still sit with and as a result, I probably want nothing but small talk with them. I know some of my friends are wondering why I can’t answer their “how are yous” anymore. It’s because I saw them close their eyes while I was standing right in front of them.
It might seem a little petty, especially considering I am not the first person in the world with a tragically deceased father, but try telling that to my grief. I’ve known my father to have a big heart and a small tolerance for bullshit. “All the things you wish you could say out loud” was his greatest speciality. He never meant any ill will towards people and if you ever misunderstood his intentions, he would explain them to you. If you still didn’t understand, he would send you a mental fuck off, if not a verbal one. All of this made me even more annoyed at the world. He took care of so many people he never knew simply because he knew we liked them. I know he would have said “let it be” but he’s not here and things are very different now.
Grief alters your address book and hooray, right in time for Christmas card season. I have made a conscious effort to keep away from people who trigger that anger over being put at the bottom of a priority list. If you’ve gotten a short answer (or no answer) from me, I’m just trying to take care of myself.
In those early days, it was hard to have people push demands on us (AND OH BOY THERE WERE DEMANDS), it was hard to feel anything for the world other than shock. We just wanted to crawl into cocoons of ourselves and in a way, we already had. With 4 bedrooms in the house, my mother sister and I slept on a bed meant for two. We needed to be close to people, to know we could feel comforted in whatever familiar was left. Some of the people that did show up in the days and months that came confronted their own grief and still put ours first. They looked straight at their deepest fears, and ate around it.
It hasn’t been easy to let go of my expectations of how adult people should act in such situations. What has helped me a lot is to hear from others who have done this all before. “Be compassionate/gentle/kind with yourself”. As the days lead up to the anniversary of my dad’s death (and his 69th birthday), that’s my goal, eyes wide open.
Italian flag baked pasta from Now & Again
Julia Turshen’s new book Now & Again is for the novice and expert cook alike. In my case, it’s a stealthy companion for the grief-stricken as well. The beauty of this book is that it has recipes laid out as menus and then it has follow-up recipes for the leftovers (hence the title, now and again). I have always loved how she makes delicious home cooking accessible to people of all budgets. In this recipe you will see the use of frozen spinach and canned tomatoes apart from other packaged items. The beauty of this recipe is that you cannot mess it up. I used homemade tomato puree instead of crushed tomatoes; sorrel instead of spinach. Feel free to experiment with veggies or other sauces if you consider yourself an ace of the baked pasta realm.
The whole dish can be made a day ahead and baked an hour before you eat. The sauce can be made beforehand as well.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 455 gms/ 1 lb ground dark meat turkey (you can also use lean, if that’s your style)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- One 794 gms/ 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 3 leafy fresh basil sprigs, tough stems reserved and leaves roughly chopped
- 455 gms/ 1 lb short, ridged pasta (whatever type you like. I used rigatoni)
- Two 280 gms/ 10 oz packages frozen spinach, defrosted, squeezed dry and roughly chopped
- 1 cup sour cream or crème fraiche
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 cup mozzarella, coarsely grated