It is a fairly normal occurrence for me to walk from my car to the door of my apartment transporting more bags than any human being should ever attempt to carry. Two on my right shoulder, one on my left, both hands full, and sometimes one more held in the fold of my right arm. Occasionally I’ll have a box too. And then inevitably I will drop my keys. I’ve often thought of how ridiculous I must look. Not long ago, I was trudging along in this typical fashion when a man walking towards me dropped his own bag on the ground and rushed over to me. “You look like someone who could use a hand.” I was so shocked that I didn’t even know how to answer, and since he was dressed all in black with a strange hat on his head, I almost thought he was some sort of an otherworldly apparition. I hesitated for just a moment, but then I allowed him to help me, I thanked him profusely, and we parted ways. I’ve thought about him a lot since that day, mainly because in the million and one trips that I’ve made from my car to my door, he is the only person who has ever offered to help me in any way. I guess it’s fair to say that I was officially the recipient of a random act of kindness, a fact that interests me differently right now because I just finished a book entitled Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. In it, a group of strangers find themselves thrown together in a way that could never be anticipated, and the acts of kindness they show to one another deeply affect each of them. They begin their day knowing nothing about anyone else in the room, but end it as profoundly connected as family or friends.
When I reflect back on my encounter with the man in the funny hat, I realize that the main thing I felt as the beneficiary of his kindness was that suddenly I was not alone. Walking from my car with my bags in hand, with awareness yet lost in my thoughts, was a solitary act until it wasn’t, and in that moment of change this stranger and I experienced a brief connection. Isn’t it true for most of us that our days are spent transitioning between being alone and being around other people? We wake up, do our personal things, have our coffee and breakfast, and then move on to our daily commute. Maybe we have company for some of it, but maybe we don’t. Eventually we get to where we’re going, and we settle into the routine connections that are a part of our everyday lives. As human beings, we thrive on these intersection points, and even those of us who love being alone would be lost without regular human contact. Within this time that we regularly spend with familiar people, we develop expectations that we’ll be treated in certain ways. We anticipate feeling acknowledged, accepted, and warmly regarded. We anticipate decency and kindness, and we give it easily in return. When we’re in the company of strangers, however, a certain guard comes up, and we fall into the role of the solitary creature again, wary and with focus turned inward. Any act of kindness or acknowledgment, even if it’s as small as a smile, catches us by surprise, and we’re often left wondering how to react. Is this person a creeper? Should I smile back? Do they want something from me in return?
What if we consider the time we spend alone each day to be a kind of transitional place filled with new possibilities? What if we think of it as a liminal space? The origin of the word liminal comes from the Latin root limin, meaning threshold, and it can be used to describe interim places that are physical like doorways or hallways, or emotional waiting periods where we are about to begin some new chapter of our lives. The term is used in astrology to reference the period between eclipses (we are in one right now) where we often contemplate big life changes, or to define the very last degree of a sign in the zodiac where the energy is about to shift entirely. There is an online fan page called The Liminal Space Aesthetics Wiki where people post pictures of places that capture the feeling of the quiet emptiness that comes right before a major shift happens. In some of them you can literally feel how filled they are with the potential energy for change. If I think about my encounter with the man who helped me that day as a liminal space occurrence, I can honestly say that by accepting his help and looking him in the eye and expressing real gratitude for it, I felt a certain realization come over me regarding the impact we have on one another’s lives. That awareness has made me more willing to extend that same type of random kindness to others, without worrying about how my actions might be received. For the characters in Anxious People who attend an event one day as complete strangers, but are thrown into an odd situation that unites them in an unexpected way, the change that they experience is even more profound. In one of my favorite quotes in the book, Backman tells us, “Perhaps we hurried past each other in a crowd today, and neither of us noticed, the fibers of your coat brushed against mine for a single moment and then we were gone. I don’t know who you are.” What if we lifted our heads in that instant to see if an opportunity was being presented to us? What possibilities might there be? Our lives may feel too full or busy, or we may be too cynical about how our smile or offer of help might be received, but there is always time for a moment of honest connection, always time to take a breath that’s faithful and true to who we are as human beings
For today’s cocktail, I began by searching for spirits made in Sweden, the setting of the book Anxious People. I was fortunate to find a pink gin distilled by Stockholms Branneri that featured rhubarb and rose in its flavor profile. I knew that I could easily dovetail these ingredients into the theme of today’s post. Besides being a fabulous flavor to work with in a cocktail, rhubarb is also symbolic of the idea of spiritual grounding. When we experience moments of kindness and acknowledgement that are unexpected, yet profoundly moving, we find our center and feel deeply rooted. Rose is a perfect partner for rhubarb, and always calls to mind ideas of love and affection. To further echo these flavors, I used a Pink Cava made by Borrasca as a secondary spirit, and I made a purée from fresh rhubarb that was just the right combination of tart and sweet. I boosted the sweetness just a tiny bit with some simple syrup, and I chose to use Meyer lemons for my citrus because their flavor is rounder and more complex. I finished with a few drops of rosewater to intensify both the flavor and the symbolism, and I garnished the cocktail with a sage leaf to represent the wisdom gained from acknowledging our need for human connection. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! I am grateful for the bond I share with all of you.
Long shake over ice.
Double strain into a Nick & Nora glass.
Garnish with a sage leaf.
*For my NJ readers, both of these products are available at Total Wine in Cherry HIll.