Friday, May 11, 2018

Our Daily Gruel

Bread, bread, bread.

I have in the past year made many loaves of bread - I treated myself to an intensive sourdough making course at a local bakery and spent four hours learning "how" to make bread.

I've spent the past fourteen months trying to emulate, perfect, and improve upon my bread making.

So what's the deal with bread? Nearly every culture eats some form or another of a carbohydrate, and often a type of bread.

Across cultures, religions, and generations, bread has been a topic of discussion. Take the following as a small sampling:

The Lord's Prayer: "Give us this day our daily bread."

Jesus: "Man does not live by bread alone."

The Quran: "Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul."

The Jewish Tanakh: "With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return."

Mother Teresa: "The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread."

Dante Alighieri: "You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs."

Nelson Mandela: "Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all."

Mahatma Gandhi: "There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."

Ursula K. Le Guin: "Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new."

Viktor E. Frankl: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread."

D. H. Lawrence: "The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread."

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So what's with the bread references?

I have to say that this week, I have been learning that my "daily bread" is feeling more like a "daily gruel."

I've been left high and dry by our daycare provider, and so between my husband and myself, and our mothers, we have been trying to care for Kinsey at home all week.

To say she's busy is an understated understatement.

I have never felt so exhausted and drained as I do this week.

My reserves are gone.

I am so far behind on my marking that I'm debating just giving everyone an A and calling it a year.

Proof of this lack of reserves? For the first time in seventeen years of teaching, I actually took my classes OUTSIDE before June! Normally, I wait as long as possible for that inevitable "work outside" day - it can be pretty tough to get the kids back into our routine if we start heading outdoors too early in the spring.

Yesterday, I decided to scrap my lesson plan with my grade nines (who wants to teach OR learn about Shakespeare at the end of the day when it's beautiful outside anyhow?) and instead, we went on a "nature walk" - a quick trip across the road and through the woods brought us to the playing fields at the local arena. The kids hucked aeration plugs at each other, collected large deadwood and used it for gladiator battles, played on the swings and climbers, stole each others' shoes and hid them, ran around the field, raced each other, and generally had a smashing good time getting to know each other better in the sunshine and fresh air. I made them all leave their cell phones locked up in the classroom. Not one of them complained! They even allowed me to take their photo on the climber and submit it to the school yearbook.

THAT, my friends, is the antidote to the daily gruel. That is what we need as people - we need more than bread. We need more than food as sustenance. We need LIFE. Sunshine. Nature. Even some mud (we took the wrong turn in the woods and we all got covered in black mud before finding our way to the drier path).

Backtrack to Tuesday: I was feeling a bit frustrated at having to stay home with Kinsey. I had a lot of marking to do and conferences that I was forced to postpone with my gr. 12 university English students (NOT that they were complaining, I'm sure!).

Yet in spite of that gruelling sense of urgency - the need to be productive, to get things done, to accomplish everything on my to-do list - I found myself remembering the simplicity of childhood as I spent the day with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

First, we took her big sister to school. Then, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Kinsey chased birds and wondered why they flew away from her. She picked up every stick she could find. She squished pine cones and bade them farewell after loving and leaving them. She scolded me for dropping a stick she gave me, and reminded me for the rest of the walk, "DON'T drop your stick, Momma, okay? Don't drop it!"

We watched a murder of crows nearly murder an impostor crow.

We went to Gwyneth's bookfair and spent WAY too much money buying beautiful, engaging, thoughtful books for our collection.

We ate lunch with Daddy.

We both had a long and satisfying nap in the afternoon.

Then, we picked up Gwyneth at the school and went over to a friend's house to play and visit until supper time. It was good for the kids to play together - ages seven, six, five, two and one - and it was good for me to spend time with my friend Amy, who is from China and often misses her family back home.

I learned that kids in China grow up digging tunnels to America in their sandboxes!

Not once did I think about the gruel on Tuesday. I enjoyed my life: I enjoyed the bread and salt and water and flowers and beauty of the world around me.

I remembered that love and relationships and friendships need to be made and remade.

I remembered that the hunger for love is strong in all of us, whether we are one or forty-one.

I remembered that to share bread - even if it's goldfish crackers - is universal across cultures and ages.

I remembered that one day, this daily gruel would end and I too would return to dust, from when I came.

It was good to have that day to remember. To remember that life is too short to let the gruel win.

And....if you want to read about my latest poetry, here's a link to my poem about food.

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