Learning to Eat Again


Yesterday, Katie read this excerpt to me from Joe Biden's Biden's book:

"One thing I have grown especially attuned to over the years is just how many people are quietly and uncomplainingly suffering psychic and emotional pain at any given time.  Consider the simple fact that as I sped along a highway at the far edge of America in the last few days of 2014, more than two and a half million of our fellow citizens had perished in the single year.  A fifth of those people had died of cancer, which meant they had likely suffered long, harrowing, and painful deaths as their families looked on feeling helpless. A population twice the size of my hometown of Wilmington had died in some form of accident.  Here and healthy one day; gone forever the next."

He goes on... he talks about the number that died from suicide, alcohol and drugs, gun shots and accidents.  The big picture is overwhelming and hard to grasp.  But it's important to remember.  Each time I step out my door, I am likely to encounter someone who is suffering, who needs grace or mercy or compassion.

But the place where I relate to the pain and suffering is in the individual stories, whether real or dramatized.  That's why I like Grey's Anatomy.  I know I'll lose some folks here, that's OK, but I think Shonda Rhimes gets it.  The surgery story is such a beautiful analogy for the spiritual life. Well, of course it is, the body is the container of that spirit in every fiber and cell.  So she shows us, in minute detail, the anatomy of the body as a reflection of the spirit on the journey.

I've been sick.  Ugh.  (And, yes, the irony is not lost on me that my body is reflecting my spirit continuing to struggle back into balance). And I've been binge watching Grey's to catch up for the 2 seasons I didn't watch after Roy died.  Way tooooo intense.  And, also yesterday I watched season 13, a later episode, not sure the number, where (spoiler alert) Maggie's mom died.  Yes, it was cathartic.  But more importantly for me, it made me see that my inability to function after Roy's death was not some weakness in my character, or psyche, or spirit, but a universal response to shock and grief.


It was the scene at the end of the episode where we see Maggie sitting at the dining room table in front of a half-eaten pan of lasagna that she had made with her mother. The fork is in her hand but she is not eating.  She is staring, like she's not quite sure what to do with the fork.  I get that.  Then Meredith and Amelia come home and see her. They walk to the table and sit beside her.  Then Meredith takes a bite.  Then Amelia takes a bite. No one says a word.  Then Maggie seems to get it and the three of them take a bite together.

That is so very real for me. Being in such a state of overwhelm and confusion that even the autonomic functions seem to have collapsed and abandoned me. And her friends, they knew. They just came and sat next to her. And showed her how to eat again.  They didn't come in and say, Oh, good Maggie, you need to eat.  Glad to see you're feeling like eating. They didn't say anything.

They just sat next to her and taught her how to eat again. And I am so very grateful for the people who came and sat with me. You all know who you are. Well, maybe some of you don't. Because sometimes, the smallest gestures have great magnitude.

On any given day, when I walk out the door, there will be people I encounter who are learning to eat again.  Knowing this, I try to go more gently into the world.