Thursday, February 27, 2014

Eating Out

It happened again this week. Without seeking them out, I got to hear two people I know talking about a restaurant to which they had gone, each on a different day. It was restaurant review time. They had stopped near where I happened to be, and I do not know if they realized that I could hear them. I would not have given attention to what they were saying except I heard one of them saying something I had heard her say before in just this context: “I have to admit I was disappointed.”

Without seeing her, I could picture her at that moment. She would be leaning her head in and turning it slightly as though she were sharing something confidential.

What I knew was happening was that these two people had each ventured out to a restaurant and paid sixty or seventy dollars for a meal. Maybe more. As part of what they had paid for, a certain future frisson was their right. They could, if they wished, shudder with disappointment at their costly evening.

The bald truth is, they had been willing to incur significant expense for the chance to test the publicity, the advertising, the online reviews, the word of mouth among their acquaintances. There used to be times when I did the same thing, when I enjoyed the advantages of a two-income household. Was there resentment on my part this week hearing people with the freedom to be disappointed after a significant expense on what was actually a non-necessity? Was it that they had what I did not have, that they got to do what I could not?

No, that was not where my thinking was going. Not where my feeling was going as I overheard these two people. I frankly was thinking of all the perfectly satisfying meals I have had the good fortune to enjoy, meals that did not claim anything near sixty or seventy dollars. Some of them were meals ordered out in restaurants, but a whole lot more were prepared in my own kitchen and served at my dining room table.

Another little chink has been introduced into my ideas about how to spend money. What do I benefit from spending sums that I do not have to pay? Why do I and others venture so often to want more? What curiosity motivates us to look elsewhere when the satisfactory is so near and sometimes so easy?

How many priceless memories surround meals where the person across from us was the food we most needed?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Expectant Hearts

“Do you really believe that?”

If I mention at the lunch table something that I have seen on a television series the night before, no one asks me the question “Do you really believe that?” My colleagues do not suspect any extremes of technological naiveté on my part. I can profess admiration for Dr. John Watson’s loyalty in the newest PBS version of the Sherlock Holmes story, and lunch companions simply learn a little more about how I spend my evenings. They may glimpse something of my sympathies and values. They do not appear inclined to test my hold on reality.

“Do you really believe that?”

An inveterate reader of poetry is trained to imagine things. It is a tribute to the poet Mary Szybist that she can get me to picture the pigeons and doves she saw gathering one day in an ash tree in Bellagio, Italy. That is, if there really had been an ash tree. If there really had been birds that hopped from branch to branch one day while the poet watched them. Accepting the conventions of imaginative literature, I am eventually moved by a life truth that the writer, bereaved and far from home, manages to convey through just those images.

 “Do you really believe that?”

I grew up within a religious tradition with holy cards and a calendar of holy days. I grew up familiar with what a grotto might look like although I had never seen one. (Louisiana does not boast natural caves.) Very young, I learned the narrative about a grotto in southern France and a presence there to which an impoverished young girl had responded in the nineteenth century. I heard of subsequent pilgrim journeys and healings and hearts that were expectant as passengers looked out the windows of trains travelling into the French Pyrenees. When February 11 comes and goes each year, I get a reminder that it is human to be full of need and full of expectation.

I really believe that.