A couple Mondays ago I was at the restaurant early doing my paperwork when I got hungry. Going into the kitchen I started tooling around looking for something to eat. As odd as it might sound, there are many times I get hungry at the restaurant and can't find anything that catches my fancy. I don't know how many times I've gone home hungry. My dear friend Athena has a great story about me along these lines, but that's for another time. I'm sure many of my restaurant colleagues can agree with me here.
So there I am going through the reach-ins looking for something, anything, to eat when I happened onto the buttermilk waffle batter we use for our take on the classic southern dish, chicken and waffles. Plugging in the waffle iron, I got to work. Now, I can't have waffles without bacon, so I pulled out some of the best damned bacon on the planet; Elmer's,from Maple Ridge Farm. Elmer is the owner of the Maple Ridge. He's also part of the Amish community down by Manton. When I say his bacon is the best, I mean I usually have a tissue handy to wipe the tears of joy from my eyes as I eat it.
So anyway, I put a skillet on the fire, got it hot, then put about 6 pieces of the bacon into it. With the bacon frying, I fired the waffle and got a pot of tea brewing. It was about 9:00 in the morning. There was no one in the restaurant but me. Because the sun was shining through the kitchen window I didn't bother turning on the lights. The hoods were off, leaving the only real sound that of the bacon frying. It was perfect. One of those rare moments when I felt OK with the universe around me. I dare say it bordered on mystical. It was as if my kitchen, if only for a brief moment, was a temple. I experienced what Freud called,"the oceanic feeling", which he describes as a sense of indissoluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universe.
What made it so special this time? I make waffles everyday. I cook pounds of bacon every week. But for some reason that moment was special. For that moment it was just me and my breakfast. Bank account balances were meaningless. The next day's menu was unimportant. The epic we now know as our pursuit of a liquor license was no where to be found. For that brief moment, I was cooking for the sake of cooking. I was cooking for no other reason than because I wanted to. For that brief moment, my food didn't have to have meaning, or reason. I wasn't cooking for a guest. I wasn't cooking to pay the rent. I wasn't cooking because there was an order hanging. I was cooking...because. For a brief moment, I found freedom again in my food. Nothing else mattered.
I touched eternity with a waffle. How simple. In the process I've discovered a mistake I've been making all along. I've mistaken cooking as the end and not the means; the path for the destination. Paul Tillich termed this mix up, idolarty, if I can use a religious term, which he defined as, "absolutitzing the symbols of the holy, and making them identical with the holy itself." I made cooking the absolute, not the symbol. I mistook cooking as "the great All, when it really is just a vehicle for experiencing. Cooking gives me access to the grace of life. It's not life itself. In this simple correction of a mistake long made, I have a much better understanding of why I cook.
I suspect that whatever I do in life can serve the same purpose as my waffles did not long ago. Cooking just happens to be the most readily available to me. I cook because it's what I do. I cook because sometimes the stove unviels to me life as beautiful as I believe it is. Cooking doesn't have meaning; cooking let's me find meaning. I guess my bigger question would be, what do you do that let's you find grace within life?