I don’t meditate.
I wish I could. Really, I do. But the truth is perhaps I’m not evolved enough. Maybe I haven’t had the right teacher, maybe I haven’t tried hard enough – or, more likely, too hard to do it the “right way” – when perhaps there’s no “right way” at all.
But I think I know what it feels like. To me, it feels like baking chocolate cookies. Fully present. Senses heightened. Mindless & mindful all at the same time.
When I cook, my mind stops making lists. It stops worrying, planning, regretting, wondering. There’s something therapeutic for me about stirring a pot with all my strength, kneading dough, chopping garlic and ginger for curry, making soup made entirely from scratch, and the scent of fresh-baked cookies.
This isn’t the type of cooking done by most Americans I know in less than 30 minutes; that’s a nearly impossible feat for me, and completely unpleasureable. This is the type of cooking done on a Sunday afternoon for five slow hours, or, as it happened last week, a Friday afternoon, for more than three.
Normally, here and everywhere, I think everyone I know would call me “task-oriented”. There’s a distinction made in organizational psychology between those focused on getting tasks done, like me, and the “maintenance-oriented” who keep a team playing together nicely. No one has ever mistaken me for the latter. While we’re here in Tanzania, there’s a list of at least twenty things to be done – teaching classes, labeling & cataloging books so that the library can open the moment construction is finished, meeting with Mama Lucy & the architect to get the children’s home underway…but the truth is I relish moments when there is nothing that must be done. Friday, for instance, we baked cookies. Cookies aren’t necessarily on the critical path to our next big deliverable – but I think they may very well be the most memorable thing we’ve done in Tanzania so far.
Gladys had never even eaten a chocolate chip cookie. I’d baked them once before for Glory & Gideon, so they’d each eaten one. Gideon swore he couldn’t bake, but was more than interested to know how. The matron at the school’s rented 3-bedroom, 14-child boarding facility had taught Glory & Gladys to make chapati over an open fire in the makeshift kitchen-shed out back. That was all they knew of baking, though Glory had cooked bananas with her sisters too.
After I made them tuna casserole with Kraft macaroni & cheese for lunch (forgive me, I know, but, really, I couldn’t help myself but to bring it and share a tiny taste of America), we set about making cookies. We had no measuring spoons or cups, and they’d never followed a recipe, but they were, as always, quick learners. For the first batch, we helped them understand the directions, measure, pour, stir, and even taught them how to crack eggs. (Forgive me again, I know, but I may have let them taste a tiny bit of the dough, too, raw egg and all.) For the second batch, made much more quickly, they’d mastered the art and did it all by themselves.
They stared through the glass oven door as the cookies melted, in awe of the transformation taking place before their very eyes. In science, they’d just learned about the states of matter, and were transfixed as they watched the dough transform from solid to liquid and back to solid again.
Do you remember the first time you tasted a warm, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie?
I don’t, but I’m not sure it could have tasted better than these.
As we passed each child a cookie, they waited, we counted to three, and they each took a bite. Gooey, still warm, I asked if biscuits (local sugar cookies) were better, or, their favorite food, chapati (a flat, warm, thick tortilla-like local bread). Nothing, they insisted, was better than this.
I asked Gideon, our future rocket ship pilot, if he preferred learning how to use Twitter, or learning to bake chocolate chip cookies. There was no contest. Cookies. How could anything compare?
Last year, when Gideon learned to use Skype, his father, Gidori, was working in a small internet cafe, and lived with his son in the back. The video was dark & blurred, the audio nearly indecipherable, especially when coupled with a language barrier, transmission was delayed and stilted, and the connection would cut every minute or so, so you’d have to redial. But Gideon was relentless. He’d dial again. And again. He’d stay on skype for hours while his father worked at the cafe. On Halloween, he snuck out from the back room at 3am, determined to make out from the shadowy figure on screen the costume my niece Zoe was wearing. We stayed on skype with Gideon at home while Zoe trick-or-treated for hours, dialing & redialing so he could catch a glimpse when she returned home. Suffice it to say, when he had access to the internet from his father’s cafe, Gideon’s interest in skype was tireless.
I asked him if skype was better than chocolate chip cookies – and he thought for a bit to determine his answer.
“No,” he said, with total conviction, “This is the best day ever.”
Wherever you are, and whomever you love, I hope today you find time together to get something done that can only be done when there’s nothing that must be done.
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