Even in a time like this, I'm reminded of the power of food, not just to nourish our bodies, but to nourish our hearts and souls as well. We often think of meals as being festive and celebratory. But just as much, food is central to times of tragedy.
When we're not personally and directly affected by a tragedy, food and the kitchen table becomes a gathering place for reflection and conversation. (Tonight, that conversation was delayed until later in the evening, after Marin went to bed. She's getting old enough and smart enough that she understands more than we realize, and picks up more than we know, so we're becoming ever more conscious of what we do and don't say at the dinner table...)
When tragedy (or simply, challenging times) befalls someone we know, we often respond by bringing them food. We were on the receiving end of this equation when Kelli was hospitalized following Marin's birth, and dear friends of ours in Colorado brought gluten-free meals to me in the hospital so I'd have dinners to eat while staying with Kelli. More recently, we were on the sending end of the equation, when we sent food to a dear friend recovering from surgery and laid up at home recovering for at least six weeks.
With a tragedy of the magnitude of Arizona, I don't pretend that food even begins to heal the wounds. It certainly doesn't bring back lost loved ones. But in some very small way, food plays a part. It becomes comfort food in much more than the nostalgic "mom used to make this for me at home" sense.
Some of the blame for the Arizona tragedy is being placed on our nation's current divisive political discourse, on a caustic animosity between groups with vastly differing views, on our loss of civility. Food, in this context, can also be unifying. It is an olive branch. To share a meal with someone is to respect them, to acknowledge them, to perhaps even bond with them.
Amidst the drama of the weekend, I was reminded of this spirit of togetherness and inclusiveness by Kelli's parents and their church. An unrelated congregation uses the church space on Sunday afternoons. But this past Sunday, the two congregations came together to un-decorate the church following Christmas. As the host, Kelli's parents' church provided the food. But, as it turned out, the other congregation had at least a dozen members who were gluten-free, including a family of eight who had either Celiac Disease or a pretty severe case of gluten intolerance.
Kelli's mom took charge of preparing a gluten-free meal (with dairy on the side), so that everyone would have something to eat. It was a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by the other congregation, and which was deeply appreciated by the people who had already resigned themselves to skipping yet another meal at a public function where they couldn't eat the food.
What's more, Kelli's parents' own congregation discovered that they had someone with Celiac Disease in their midst, but didn't even know it. She never told anyone, and quietly avoided eating meals at church functions...until Sunday, when she suddenly found herself more fully a part of the community.
As Kelli and I sat on the couch tonight, talking about Arizona, one nagging question kept coming back to us: What do we do? How do we respond? How do we make a positive difference? How do we help, in our own small way, to push the world in a positive direction.
My immediate response was to say that we lead by example in the ways that we know how. We know gluten-free food, and we know people. So put some love into your gluten-free cooking, and then share that food - and that love - with others. It seems we need a little more of that in the world right now.