There’s so much we take for granted.
I’ve had this thought several times lately when I’ve been looking at food magazines, blogs, and books. It’s been nearly two years since my diagnoses of gluten intolerance and latent food allergies. I can still look at photos or descriptions of recipes and imagine the way a crusty popover will tear open with the first bite, or the way cavatelli, cooked just al dente, will have the perfect heft, give, and structure to make me relish a cream sauce and a crispy contrast of bacon or broccoli. And I think, There’s so much we take for granted, meaning, People who can eat anything without getting ill rarely appreciate what life is offering them.
But only occasionally has that thought led me to twinges of self-pity. Instead, the train of thought moves on to, What am I failing to cherish that deserves to be cherished? How can I lean more fully into appreciating the life I have?
I’m not sure why, but it’s extraordinarily easy to live with our minds on the past or the future. In the past, we were putting money into savings every month instead of drawing a bit out. In the past, Dan had more time to spend with me and less time he had to spend on his thesis. . . . In the future, what if Dan gets sucked into working like this at a job and rarely has time for me? Where are we moving in six months? What will it be like to live, again, somewhere without friends I already know?
I remember doing this earlier in my life, too. Like many people, I spent my childhood years wishing I could be like my older sisters. I spent my teenage years often wishing that I was an adult. In my early adult years, while I relished my freedom of movement and choice, I severely missed the freedom of not worrying about bills that I had as a teenager. And so on.
But what is life asking of me now? Life will always require trade-offs. To live satisfying lives, I think it’s imperative that we accept the fact that there are no perfect answers. So lately, when the back-thens and what-ifs come rolling through my head, I try to stop and focus on the pleasure and value of our current lives. Of any given current moment, really, whether I’m on the porch sipping a glass of wine or in the kitchen wrestling with a failing recipe.
Dan and I have enough money to make it through. We are without debt except for student loans, and we are not at risk of accruing new debt. We know we can rely on each other to try to be patient, loving, understanding, and devoted. We live in the heart of a fun city, with walking and public transit access to all sorts of parks, events, museums, and activities. Our car is reliable—and it’s old enough to be an adult, so that we don’t worry about occasional dings. I have the freedom to rest when I feel worn down. I have the unique opportunity to take the energy necessary to shape my life, accept guidance, and explore new paths. I have the opportunity to be more giving to my wonderful husband while expecting less from him as he struggles through his thesis. I have time at home after marriage and before children—which makes me more aware of it being my own time than I ever have been before. I am getting paid to develop recipes and write about things that matter to me, which feels like the most exciting and perhaps the most honest money I’ve ever made. I have the time to experiment with recipes, make beans from dried, make homemade stock. The spring is shaping up to be gorgeous, offering us the opportunity to set up a table outside and invite friends for potlucks. We are both able-bodied. We are house-sitting in a home where we have a beautiful bedroom and space for guests. We have a wide front porch with a swing, which is a dream come true for me. We have good friends, many of whom we see regularly. We throw fun parties. We have a church we enjoy attending, where we feel challenged to grow and accepted for who we are.
I’ve spent the last two months or so developing recipes, a meal plan, an article, and side bars for a small start-up magazine. (I’ll post more information when I get confirmation everything’s a go for the issue.) With my work broken down into hours, the pay for this particular piece would be fairly dismal. (It’s not mistreatment of me; it’s the nature of small magazines, especially ones just starting.) And I’ve used so much of a particular kind of mental energy on that in the last three weeks that I’ve lacked energy for things like emails and blog posts. But in the process, I’ve discovered just how much I enjoy the challenge of recipe adaptations, when I give myself over to thinking through them. I’ve given more thought to what kinds of writing I enjoy, where I want my energy to be employed, and what I value most and want to share with others. I’ve started thinking about writing a book about various aspects of self-care—and what I’d want to put in the book if I do. My sleep is as disturbed as ever, but several times I’ve woken from strange food dreams with ideas for new ways to create tasty food that’s free of gluten and allergens.
There are limitations and frustrations and fears in my life, just as anyone else’s. There’s much in this world that needs to change, and those things need our attention. But what I’m talking about is perspective. With the basic necessities of my life met, if I can focus on approbation rather than dissatisfaction, and if I keep my mind on now rather than on how the past worked and what the future may hold, there is much to celebrate. Life is good, truly.