Besides being a patient, long-suffering husband, excellent ceramic artist and all-around splendid person, my husband Simon is a really good cook. I’m sort of an indifferent cook. I make a fairly good macaroni and cheese, I’m pretty good with home made soup and pie crust.
Lately, however, I have been inspired by Simon’s latest kitchen doo-hickey called a…what is it called? I want to say “madeline,” but that’s a sort of cookie isn’t it? A mandolin…Anyway, the thing is a equipped with a razor sharp blade that neatly cuts vegetables into very thin, even slices. As it turns out, it will also cut fingers into very thin, even slices. On three occasions, therefore, I’ve made delicious, vegetable casseroles flavored with…well, with me.
The third time I cut my right thumb down to the bone. Simon was all set to drive me to the local emergency room when my youngest child Woolie announced that she and her friend Madeline were happy to do it. Simon could stay home, rinse the blood off the sweet potatoes, and finish making supper. Simon looked dubious. “It’s not life-threatening, ” I reassured him, and he assented.
A family with a lot of lively children tends to spend a lot of time in the E.R. what with one thing and another. My work as a chaplain also brings me into various E.R.s including my local one. This is the E.R. in which my father died, therefore, but it is also the place where a two year old, missing in the woods overnight, was brought to have her scrapes and insect bites attended to, and her hunger assuaged. A couple of wardens, some nurses and I watched her gobbling down scrambled eggs that morning, laughing with joy.
So Woolie and Madzie and I had what turned out to be a pretty jolly afternoon in this familiar place, exchanging our stories of previous visits —Madzie’s appendectomy, my groin-pull, the time Woolie and her brother sustained burns after a backyard fire blew up in their faces. Madeline recalled that this wasn’t even the first time the three of us had been to the E.R. together. “Remember when Woolie cut her toe, and you and I watched the doctor sew it up?”
The girls performed a sort of can-can dance beside my stretcher to distract me while the doctor injected my thumb with anasthetic (always the most painful part of these procedures) and entertained the doctor while he cleaned and stitched my thumb back together. The nurse who came in to do the bandaging remembered Woolie from her work as a hospital volunteer, and she remembered the little girl with her scrambled eggs, too.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” they always say. But it isn’t only the children who are held together, body and soul, by a community possessing useful skills and also the memory of who we are to one another. I have been held together—or, when necessary, put back together—by my community, too. More than once.
But now my youngest child, my baby girl, has stepped up and taken her place beside her siblings as an adult. She not only receives but offers comfort, practical compassion and concrete assistance on behalf of the village that raised her. These little girls, Woolie and Madzie are—what a miracle!— young women, and theirs is the village that raises up, that holds.
So, okay, I had an epiphany—and my thumb is healing nicely too. Still, I have been forbidden to use the mandoline, nor may I have unmediated access to any of the other sharp implements Simon keeps in the the kitchen. (Fortunately, pie dough doesn’t require anything with an edge.) Woolie and Madzie may have stepped up, but I’ve obviously stepped down, at least in one domain. If I’m making supper tonight, it’s going to be cereal and milk, served with very blunt spoons.