Friday, July 11, 2008


Do you know what it’s like to look into a bowl of sorbet, garnished with a raspberry and a mint leaf, and know it’s likely the last raspberry you’ll have for a year?

I do. This was me last night, at dinner. My prediction isn’t turning out to be strictly true; I asked for more raspberries this weekend, and I’ll get them. (I could eat a box in two grabs, if I’m not mindful.) But as soon as my white count goes down again—and it will—I can’t have another. Or a fresh salad. Or any raw, unpeeled fruit or vegetable.

I can’t describe the taste of a raspberry; you’ll have to go and eat one. They’re a summer treat, anyway. Friends in my hometown have a raspberry patch. I used to pick them whenever I wanted, but only in July. I never grieved them when they were gone; blackberries came on their heels. Where I came from, those grew everywhere, in every ditch and abandoned patch of yard.

I worked (volunteer and paid) at the food co-op in Olympia, WA, for nine years. Once, and only once, we had organic peaches from France. I think the staff got tired of all of us teasing. Other than bananas, it’s a local-food operation. You eat what’s available. I didn’t shop anywhere else, because I always had a working-member discount. If I wanted berries on my granola in the winter, I shook them out of a frozen bag.

I live in California now. There’s no such thing as seasonal food. Everything’s available, all the time. I think I’ve bought fresh raspberries in November, to make cranberry-raspberry sauce for Thanksgiving.* It would never occur to me to buy some just to eat them, in winter—they’re too expensive.

Summer fruit belongs to summer. I can still have a peach, if it’s peeled. But knowing that my body and my doctors won’t allow me to eat whatever I want out of a garden, raspberries and fresh greens and tree fruits are all I want. Forced asceticism changed my desires, fast.

And I’m not remotely a “foodie.” I like to eat well, but I don’t cook, ever, and I’ve barely ever bought groceries since I moved into the seminary dorm. I’m happy when I chance into a handful of raspberries, or fresh pesto, or portobellos—but it’s not an experience I ever make happen for myself.

I think this line of thought has to do with coming back into my body, temporary though I know that is. I’ve been feeling better every day, and stronger. I’m noticing sensory things.

At the Ranch last Saturday, we had Eucharist in the pavilion. Both bishops were here, as were more than 200 others. The wine was local; the bread baked literally in the next building over, the refectory kitchen. It wasn’t random pita bread, and it certainly wasn’t “fish food;” it was simple, well-practiced, and exquisitely good.

My liturgics teacher told us a story, last fall, about being in Africa. I don’t remember the country; I’m sure he told us. They don’t have wine there. The water’s dicey. So they used Coke for communion. Not because they could get it from any random vending machine, but because they couldn’t. It was special to them.

The elements stood out for me last Saturday not because they were rare. Local wine flows like water here; I can look across the valley and see grape vines on both sides of the Russian River. The kitchen staff bakes bread all the time. They were special to me because I don’t eat this way often. And because I know I’m healing. Also, God was present in the extended Ranch family: some had worked here; many had retreated here, the kids had come to camp here. This place has given to all of us. Many of us knew each other. I’d met lots of people, living here for a summer and hosting odd retreats through the year. There were people I didn’t know, too. We came together, in community.

I’m thinking of becoming a third-order Franciscan. I’m sorting through reasons why I would and wouldn’t do it, and seeing what makes sense to me now. The things that hold me back are mostly financial details, small things that can probably be worked out. I like the idea of a structured rule, and a global community. I love the whole idea of giving yourself completely to serve the world. Loving without question. “My God, my All.”

We’re supposed to be Christ for each other; that’s part of every Christian’s call. I am of the subset, Episcopalian. Every time I say the Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, 304-5) I reaffirm my promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself.”

That’s huge. Intimidating, really. I go weeks without thinking about it; I forget to do it, daily, in the world. But I’ve been thinking about fresh fruit, and bread, and how a friend’s particular embrace healed me.

I get tons of touch, in my daily life. Less so now because I’m around less people; but in general, people can hardly walk by me without touching me. It’s a cancer thing; I think that my living that out in community made life more real for many people. I get a lot of hugs, and I get a lot of love. S. was different because he crossed a room to do it, and because he took time. I think he saw that I was, in that moment while B. sang about resurrection, moving from victim to survivor. He supported me through that motion.

I don’t know how to be Christ for others. I think that’s a lofty aspiration. I do know how to honor the God within another person, if I remember to do it. And I know that if I take the time to look, not just at someone but into them, with respect and love for all that is holy and broken, I can give gifts that are as common as bread—and as rare as raspberries.

The trick, is looking where I don’t want to.

*Easy recipe: 1 pkg cranberries; equal raspberries; water to cook in, and sugar to taste.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Kirstin, I'm glad you're feeling better, even if it's just for a while. I'm so pleased that you say you're moving from victim to survivor. I'm so pleased to read the hope in your words that maybe you'll only feel half as sick this time around.

Ah, but no fresh foods. That's hard. It's true that because you can't have them, you want them all the more. Who knows? Perhaps you'll get used to doing without them. I hope so.

God bless you. Prayers for you continue.

Paul said...

We forget, easily, how precious and how sacred each drop we drink and each morsel we eat truly are. You have called us all to awareness, to remembrance, to deep anamnesis, to gratitude, to celebration, to prayer, to mindful living - all in this consideration of what you may and may not have, what you have enjoyed, what you face, where you have been, where God might lead you.


FranIAm said...

I have read your post about 10 times in my reader and I keep reflecting on how we take things for granted.

Your life is a testament to so many things, but when I try to find all the words, I keep coming back to one and that word is love.

Lauralew said...

What everyone else said. I really hear the joy of living in your words. Hugs to you, and prayers.

pj said...

Hi Kirstin. I've just been catching up with your blog after a long time away. (And yes, "Five Times Toxic" does sound like a bad garage band!)

I love this latest post. You really have the inner resources to make everything you go through meaningful. Wish I could borrow some of your grace-under-fire. :)

susankay said...

Kirstin -- lovely post about taste and touch. A communion in its own right.

Mimi said...

No fresh foods? Whaaaaaaaa?????????

I'd be a sad, petulent puppy.

Jane R said...

I can hardly imagine being without fresh food. Thank you for this sacramental reflection.

My experience of California was different from yours (though it sounds like we like eating some of the same things :-)) -- very seasonal. I belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and also went to the farmers' market a lot. What's different in CA is that (unlike NC where I am now) there is a year-round growing season -- so there's always something fresh around, but not always the same something. I remember watching for the first tomatoes to arrive in the market and in my CSA weekly box, and the first corn, in the summer, and the persimmons in the late fall, and stone fruit in late spring, and getting lots of kale and root vegetables in the CSA weekly box in the winter, and also citrus fruits in winter. It was a wonderful way of staying connected to the earth and the farmers and the local bioregion -- and healthy too of course.

I hope that you will find lots of deliciousness to eat even with the (temporary, thank heavens) loss of raw foods. What a blessing that you are in the Bay Area where there is so much good foodie-ness. (Even if you don't cook. I just flashed on the wonderful jams from the Bay Area fruit, and the delicious soups and stews and grilled things.) May there be new surprises to savor and may you experience nourishment from many sources, edible and other!

susan s. said...

Raspberry pie, Apple pie, Peach pie, Blackberry pie, etc.,etc. The berries are no longer raw, so why couldn't you do that?

Thinking about you even when I don't show up!

Kirstin said...

Jane, I love CSAs. Your description is wonderful. I volunteered with one in Olympia for awhile. If I lived in an apartment here, I'd go farmer's-marketing. I'm going here by what I'm fed, and what I've seen at the Berkeley Bowl (where the produce section is larger than my entire co-op in WA).

(((((Both Mimis)))))

PJ, grace grows when you need it. I lost my composure completely, in the infusion room yesterday. (That's another post.) Before this cancer thing, I had good human teachers too. They taught me what I needed to learn--and it was all at difficult times. (The fire you mention is the trick, unfortunately.)

Susan, yes, pie--but that's not the same as eating them fresh.

Paul... wow. Thank you.

Hugs and love to all.

The Wayward Episcopalian said...

Reading your reflection on fresh foods, I thought this post was insightful. But when I came to the end, about African coke and hugs and touch and giving common gifts, it was not just insightful, but powerful. It brought tears to my eyes. I think in some ways, you have already found how to show Christ to the world. Thank you for sharing so much with us.