Bending / by Sophie Johnson

I don't make plans on Thursday nights. My two roommates and I have Family Dinner on Thursdays, and it's sacred. It's the most important plan I keep, and I accept hands-down that the dinner will take the entire night. 

Hannah and Derek, who I write about all the time, are two of the most incredible people I've ever met, and our "chosen family" is most important part of my life. They are also great cooks, so family dinner, nine times out of ten, is the best meal I have all week.* 

We were all feeling a little down last night. Everyone sat at the table kind of frowning and sighing. When we went around to check in with each other, we all spoke of our inadequacies. Nothing was feeling right. Even Mardi Gras -- that jewel of care-free amusement and pleasure -- was stressful. We couldn't get anything done. We were failures of our lives.

More than just that, though, because we were all aware that the more we fed ourselves stories about being failures, the worse everything got. None of us had been able to be present lately. Everything was a major bummer. I'm feeling ennui just writing about it.

Derek had been window cleaning all day, and he was feeling defeated and worn down. Window cleaning isn't easy work, and it's especially difficult (as is anything) while you're still in the throes of learning the ropes. But as he'd been cleaning, Derek had found this quote hanging on the wall of the house. He felt like it was an important quote, and so he took a picture.

The quote was about water. I don't remember it exactly, because it was long, but the gist was this: water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. 

Water is a wonderful teacher in this way. There is nothing in the world that has more power and sway than water does. It persuades tremendous, mean boulders to shrink so much that even children can build castles from them.

But that takes a long time. Gentleness must be persistent, and it must be constant. Water knows what it wants.

I don't always know what I want. I am not going to decide right now that I want to be a social worker and start flowing in that direction forever. I am going to change course a lot before I die. But I can be gentle about it. Certainly, I can be gentle about it. 

The quote reminded me of this thought I'd been having as I was getting into the bath earlier that day. I had been feeling broken-hearted. I was saying to myself, "Woe is me, I am so broken-hearted." And then that word caught suddenly on my brain, the way your shirt sometimes catches on a stray nail sticking out of the wall. 

The implication, obviously, is that a heart can break. But the things that can break are things that are hardened. A heart can only break if it has grown rigid in one direction; if it is set in the notion that it can take just one shape. Then it is inevitable that a heart will break. Anything that can only take one shape is bound to break eventually.

It must be our life's work to stretch our hearts and train them to be bendable, flexible, fluid. A heart that bends might experience hurt, or discomfort, but ultimately it can accommodate all the change that is inescapable in this life. A gentle heart recognizes when someone needs something discordant with its own needs, and is able to let the change happen with grace, and move on.

 

* Last night, for example, they collaborated. Hannah had harvested this huge purple-and-white cauliflower from the farm where she works, and she'd put that in the oven with some sweet potatoes and farmer's market carrots. Derek made these weird pancakes. Weird pancakes are Derek's speciality: he uses a million gluten-free flours (last night they were coconut flour, tapioca flour, millet, and about four other foreign flours no one else in the world uses for anything), and ferments something**, and adds 350 spices to the batter. The result is amazing -- unlike anything you've ever tasted before. But it is also weird. Derek's weird pancakes have to be experienced, not described.

**Fermenting, in practice, IS DISGUSTING. It involves just letting food sit out until it develops a mold that you can eat. Derek would tell me that was wrong. So would Mark Bittman. But that's what it looks like to me. I never know what Derek is fermenting. I don't ask because I am not sure I would eat it if I knew. It's good for you, though.