Earlier this week, as I was contemplating the idea of thankfulness for the upcoming holiday, I found myself struggling to put my thoughts on paper, so to speak, and it upset me a great deal. I am immensely grateful for my life and should therefore have little to no difficulty articulating my appreciation. And yet the words would not come. I know that I’m not alone in this place; we always seem to want to find the most eloquent words to express thanks. Because I believe that life’s gifts come from a higher source, I decided to seek some divine intervention and had a definite aha moment when I read the following quote by a French priest named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Hmmmm, right? Now if I said that I spent a lot of time perusing things this man has written, I would be telling you one big fat lie, so I’ll admit that I’m new to his work. What I loved about this particular concept was that I found it to be a bit mind bending, and since we are constantly barraged with recommendations to follow a spiritual path, his words also felt somewhat new and refreshing. But then again, are they really?
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a small armchair in the sun-filled lobby of Penn Princeton hospital waiting for good news and for inspiration to come to me about this blog post. There was another similar chair directly across from me that was unoccupied until a young girl in scrubs sat down and became absorbed in some very focused work on her laptop. She seemed to suddenly finish whatever it was that she was so intently doing and before I knew it, she was gone. A while passed before I realized that she’d left a small book on the arm of the chair that looked like a journal of some kind. It had flowers and leaves on it and a dark green ribbon that marked a place in its pages, maybe for the last entry she’d been working on earlier that day. I’m not certain if it was the reflective mood that I was in, or the lingering energy of the spooky eclipse that I’d watched at 6:00 am that morning, or the way in which the light was hitting the arm of that chair in such a particular way, but that little book began to take on a strange significance for me. It had to be important to the girl. Did she realize it was lost? Would she know where to find it? What was it meant to represent for me as it sat there looking so forlorn and left behind in that sunshiny place?
As a brief introduction, I’m reprising this post because the circumstances of this past week made these words that I wrote over four years ago even more meaningful for me. On Tuesday, I accompanied my partner in crime / partner in life, Cathy, to what should have been routine hip surgery. It turned out to be anything but that. To say that I am grateful she is home and recovering (albeit without a new hip) and still filling my life with so much nuance is the greatest understatement I have every made. I hope you enjoy rereading this post, or reading it for the first time. I’ll be back next week with something new.
People often ask me how I come up with ideas for cocktails, especially those that I create for my job at Recklesstown. I tell them honestly that I really don’t know the answer, and that I’ve allowed it to become a matter of intuition. Because I make that statement quite frequently, I’ve come to wonder exactly what it is that I’m talking about. Let me give you an example. The other night, my son Zachary texted me to ask if there was a way to make an elevated version of a Jack and Coke. I suggested that he use a better whiskey and then learned that I’d misunderstood the question. He wanted to know if we could make a fancier riff on a Jack and Coke that we could serve for his son Jack’s birthday dinner, which happens to be tonight. Ahhhh. Well sure. Let me think on it. And so I considered the idea of taking the cocktail apart and reassembling it in a new way by adding a few ingredients to a syrup I’d recently created for work, along with a citrus cordial and the Jack Daniels. The cocktail materialized in my mind in a relatively short period of time, yet I’m inclined to say that the steps I’ve just described were not a product of intuition. I think, to the contrary, that they are more related to the accelerated logical thinking that comes from doing something over and over again until it becomes a refined process. Still, it seems as though intuition has to be involved in some way, right? Otherwise, without tediously tasting the addition of every new ingredient, I’d never have been able to say with certainty that I thought the drink would work. And yet I knew, without a doubt, that it would. Is this because I’ve developed a certain level of confidence in what I do? Of course. It has become a matter of trust. The question is whether or not that’s the same as it being a matter of intuition.
As I started considering ideas for today’s post, I consulted Merriam-Webster for the definition of the word desperation and found two entries listed with a very subtle difference between them. The first is simply the “loss of hope and surrender to despair.” Not much of a surprise there, right? The second one is a bit more interesting: “a state of hopelessness leading to rashness.” Last week, my book club met to discuss In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn, the story of a family torn apart and reassembled by tragedy, and a study of the lengths we are willing to go to in order to survive. The drive towards self-preservation is considered to be the strongest of the basic human instincts, and very few of us ever have an experience that puts this universally accepted theory to the test. Closely related to this concept of self-survival is our inclination to also protect those who reside in our innermost circle. What wouldn’t we be willing to do in order to keep our loved ones safe, especially in a moment of desperation? At the same time that I was reading In an Instant for my group, my co-worker and fellow idea lover Ben Donia recommended the short story entitled “To Build a Fire” by Jack London as something that might inspire a blog post. And so my wheels began to turn.