In the span of a day, I have gone from reveling in knowing that I am uniquely and wonderfully created in the image of God to feeling painfully in touch with my human limitations. I’m not speaking in metaphor here: I really hurt today.
Mondays are my longest days at the kitchen. I get there at ten-thirty and I leave at ten-thirty. In between, I’m the only chef in the house, so if it gets prepped, made, served, or sautéed, I do it. A Monday like today, on the heels of an incredibly busy weekend, means we’ve used up most of everything. One of the guys who worked Sunday night left me about an eight inch list of things that needed to be done. I read his note, changed into my chef clothes and went to work trying to check things off the list between cooking for lunch customers.
The big issue, as far as my work in the kitchen goes, are my feet, or should I say, my shoes. I have a pair of Birkis that have served me well for some time, but they have ceased to do so, leaving me to hobble home at the end of the shift. I don’t know if the change was in my shoes or my feet; either way, I’ve got to figure it out. I tried to buy a pair of Dansko clogs (which is what Chef wears), but the place I called on the way to work only had women’s shoes. Since he wasn’t at work today and we wear the same size, I decided to wear his to see how they felt. I came home with my feet aching in different places.
The bigger issue this whole week has been my eyes. I live with a severe astigmatism in both eyes, which makes finding glasses and contacts that let me see well hard to do. Last Tuesday, I ripped one of my contacts as I was putting them in. I wore my glasses to work. Normally, I wear glasses only for reading and have the habit of setting them down all over the place and then not being able to find them. Somewhere between changing clothes at work and getting out of the shower when I got home, I put my glasses down and have not seen them since. Serendipitously, I learned I can read my computer screen without glasses or contacts, so I have been able to write, but, as far as the rest of life goes, I’ve been squinting my way through.
Both things unleash very basic fears in me.
I love being in the kitchen cooking for people. I even like days like today when I’m challenged to work my butt off to make things happen. The fearful voice in me asks, “What if this is not a shoe issue but a foot or body issue that means you can’t do what you love doing?” The eye thing cuts even deeper. I am afraid of blindness because I can only see that it would separate me from reading and writing, two of the things which feed my soul.
Yes, I know both scenarios are extreme. Yes, I know I’m jumping ahead of myself. But this is not about knowing, this is about deep archetypal, this-is-what-I-think-makes-me-who-I-am feeling. I am a cook and a writer. Those are not just things I do; they are expressions of my being. I am working and squinting through the pain and discomfort, even as I hear the voice of fear inside me ask, “Where do you think this is going?”
One of the stories in the Gospels that has spoken to me most deeply over many years is Jesus’ encounter with Peter after both Peter’s denial of Christ and Jesus’ resurrection. Back and forth they go: “Do you love me?” – “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” – “Feed my sheep.” Then Jesus says something that has always had a difficult resonance to me. I thought about the verse on the way home.
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18).
Then Jesus added, “Follow me.”
In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago dealt with the pain from the bones spurs in his heel by remembering that he had read that the great Joe DiMaggio had bone spurs and finding hope in Joe’s not giving in to the pain. “A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.” I thought about Santiago, a favorite literary character of mine after several years of teaching ninth grade English. I wonder if bone spurs feel like my feet do tonight.
The pain in my feet and my blurred vision pale by comparison to the situations of most people on the planet, I’m sure. I am far from fluent in the language of extreme suffering. My reality is I get my new contacts tomorrow and I have a couple of days to chase down some new kitchen kicks before I have to go back to work. I probably also have some things to learn about how to take better care of my feet. And my reality is I’m getting to experience the wonder of my humanity from the temporary side.
Perhaps, as I sleep, I can also dream of the lions on the beach.