We're So Lucky
We’ve passed the winter solstice but the days are still short and darkness descends all too soon. There is a midrash that tells the story of Adam and Eve’s first winter outside the Garden of Eden. Adam sees the days getting shorter and assumes that the world is dying as a result of his sins. He is overcome with despondency and cries out to God. Only when the days start to lengthen does Adam understand that this is the way of the world; he must learn to confront the darkness that is both within himself and in nature.
I write this because I am suddenly overcome with darkness. I wake in the dark on the days I visit my parents and leave my house as the sun’s weak light is painting the sky in muted colors. I arrive home when the sun is below the horizon and dusk descends. It is easy to forget the warmth and laughter that is present during the day. Mom and I and her caregiver Sahlee went out for coffee today and sat in the sunshine in a busy square. Mom was so coherent. She looked at the sky and commented on the shapes and colors of the surrounding buildings. She threaded sentences together as if it was an unlost natural skill. She was happy and lucid and our time was precious.
“I look up and I see the beautiful blue sky and I think we’re so lucky,” Mom said.
Later, after lunch, we sang funny old songs for about an hour—and my dad joined in.
Even the bureaucracy involved in renewing Mom’s prescription for Exelon, a drug that improves the function of nerve cells in the brain, didn’t get me down.
I’m home now. The sky is dark. I have not yet made dinner. And I am in a funk. I must fight the darkness from seeping into my inner thoughts. It’s not just about Mom, about her condition, about the time we have left together, about what’s coming. It is also a sense of being alone. Rationally, I know that I’m not. So I work to push the boundaries of my small dark circle outwards, to make noise in the silence of my house, to connect with all those other people who are alone in their own circles of sorrow. I look up and see the beautiful sky filled with infinite stars and think how lucky I am.
Banging around my kitchen and trying new recipes is great therapy. Here’s a version of the ratatouille my friend Ariella served us this past Shabbat. And, yes, the animated movie Ratatouille about the cooking rat is one of my favorites.
This is one of those winter dishes that fills you up and keeps you warm. Slicing the vegetables instead of cutting them into chunks and artfully arranging them in your pan adds to its elegance.
1 medium eggplant
1 large onion
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp parsley
¼ tsp thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice all vegetables into thin slices and position so that you can grab them easily. In a small bowl, mix crushed tomatoes with paste, oil and spices. Pour sauce at bottom of a round or oval baking dish. Alternate sliced vegetables along bottom and sides of pan so that they are partially covered by the sauce. Push them down so that they are at an angle. Drizzle additional olive oil on top, add a little salt and pepper and bake uncovered for an hour at 350°.