Gingerbread Cookie (Yum) Lesson

It’s the time of year for holiday baking! For a few years I skipped it completely. My friends and family moaned a little, but we used whatever money I was going to spend making cookies and sending cards towards charity. This year I decided to make somecookies. Only a batch of each to keep it all super low key. Also, as long as a nice large tray of cookies would be dropped off at the domestic violence shelter where I often make donations– it would still be for charity.

Yesterday while making Gingerbread men I experienced a little of a spiritual quest, where the words of many who’ve walked before me sunk even deeper.

Monday I made the Gingerbread dough and popped it in the fridge until I was ready to roll it out at a later time. Yesterday I worked from home, and following my lunch walk; I decided to pull out the dough so it was be perfectly soft when I logged off for the day. The cold air outside left me craving the warm smell of cookies in my home.

When it was time to roll, the consistency was just perfect (ever wondered where that phrase came from anyway? “Time to roll”). I preheated the oven and set to work making tiny little people with a brand new cookie cutter I purchased from Zabars on Sunday morning (for an unbelievable price by-the way). They were coming out seamlessly!

I knew I was going to freeze most of them so I didn’t want to frost them. Instead I opted to make 3 little indentations with an appetizer fork on their bellies for buttons as well as on their feet to mimic a little cuff. For the eyes I used the back of a lobster pick. I decided against a mouth, nose or cuffs for the arms. It was a bit too much, as this year I’m keeping it simple.

As I decorated the first batch I couldn’t help but notice how different each cookie already looked. I attempted to make them all the same, but the place in the dough where I cut and the ever so slight differences in the eyes, buttons & cuffs made each and every beautiful little Gingerbread person unique in it’s own way.

I popped the first two trays in the oven and set to work on the second two trays. It was immediately apparent that the dough was already slightly warmer and a bit more difficult to cut. However, making the indentations was easier.

The first batch came out and I loaded the second one in. I let the first two trays cool for a minute before beginning to carefully remove them with a spatula for the cooling rack.

These cute little confections puffed up in the oven and began to sink back down as I started to lift them. As with many cookies (especially complicated cut outs) a few broke a little arm or leg in the process, some had less deep button indentations, some just cooked a little more than others depending on their place in the oven and how thick the dough was. Despite my attempt to make them uniform; nature, chemistry, and my own artistic abilities made each ever so slightly dissimilar to one another.

Some had gotten so puffed that they combined with a neighboring cookies. I had to carefully cut them apart so I didn’t break either in the process. For some it was difficult to distinguish which overlap belonged to which cookie.

This is where my mind went the to aforementioned short spiritual quest.

Like people and animals, these little cookies were all distinct. Where does one person really begin and another end? Those cookies that stuck together came from the same batch. Where they overlapped it was hard to tell who was who, as they are made from the same stuff. And does it matter other than to the eye that they are separate? It’s all just cookies that will taste more or less the same.

Then I thought… What if somehow these Gingerbread cookies became conscious? Would they form a society and create a hierarchy of “better” or “worse” cookies based on cut, color, consistency, button deepness, etc? How crazy would that be? Not too long before that they were just ingredients in the store, then my fridge, then in a ball together… Why would they create a structure in which some have dominance or perceived superiority over another?

What if they split off into groups and started hating on one another? Hating on one another so much so that they began destroying one another as they saw fit to their own Gingerbread beliefs. Wouldn’t that be kind of crazy? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of making the cookies in the first place? Why would they fight over differences rather than celebrating how each is unique?

Why do we think we are any different from Gingerbread people?

Carl Sagan’s quote sort of describes how I was feeling at the moment:

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff”.

Alan Watts famously said:

“Look, here is a tree in the garden and every summer is produces apples, and we call it an apple tree because the tree “apples.” That’s what it does. Alright, now here is a solar system inside a galaxy, and one of the peculiarities of this solar system is that at least on the planet earth, the thing peoples! In just the same way that an apple tree apples!”

The Alan Watts quote might be a little more confusing, but I listened to a Podcast one day that expounded upon this quote. Watts said something to the effect of imagine a few million years ago some advanced aliens were roaming around the universe and hap-chanced upon planet earth. They may have took a look at our planet and said ‘eh it’s nothing but a pile of rocks’. A few million years later the same alien race came by the earth again and noticed us humans walking around. This time they said ‘Hey look – this rock peopled.

 

We are all from the same stuff. To some extent as humans, like the Gingerbread men; we are from the same batch of mixed ingredients that were provided by the earth, solar system, Milky Way, and universe. Deep down we are all the same. It’s only nature, some chemistry, and the artistic work of our creator that makes us ever so slightly different in appearance and thought. We were created for the same purpose and should only celebrate what makes us so uniquely beautifully different.

Lessons from the Gingerbread People

One of my cookies-

On the passage of time

 

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It still hurts after 10 years. The same exact pain at times. The same heart wrenching squeeze that comes in waves over and over while I’m experiencing grief. It actually feels a little like my heart is being rung out. The first time I felt this so strongly was around this time of year 11 years ago when my mom had first been diagnosed with lung cancer. She died 10 years and 2 months ago. She was only 49. October 25th would have been her 60th birthday. My grandmother who I was even more close with than my mother passed away a mere 11 months later. Also from lung cancer. She would have been 89 this year on Nov 21. I miss them. Tonight I’m especially missing them.

 

Them. Because they passed away so close together we often refer to them as “them”. I don’t think about this often, but tonight I’m mourning and it’s on my mind. I was crying and having a difficult time breathing in bed, so I got up and decided to pour it out on paper (well figuratively… as it’s with a keyboard and screen really).

 

People who’ve lost others who they were close to would understand the how strong feelings of grief can capture you by surprise at times, and release strong emotions throughout your body. Emotions that are so strong, there are moments you may wonder how you might ever not feel seized by sorrow again. They may also understand the comfort you might feel when you desperately need the departed and you can actually feel their presence with you. When I’m inconsolable I feel them. Both of them. Always together and always comforting. I don’t know if it’s my memories, lingering energies or anything not of the world we understand; but I’m really certain something about them helps me get through the times I need them.

 

Tonight I was thinking about the two of them and how we group them together. I was thinking particularly about who the “we” are who groups my mother and grandmother together. It really is just a handful of other people in the world. My two brothers and my aunt come to mind first. I talk to them the most about mom and grandma. Anytime I want to reminisce or tell someone how I had a dream about one or both of them, or that I was thinking about them and got upset; my brothers and aunt are there and completely understand.

 

The next person who comes to my mind is my ex-husband John. He was in my life and in my family when we were both really young and my parents were still married. He was just as much a part of my family and laughed with us, and could understand the irony and hilarity of their relationships. Particularly the relationship between my mother and grandmother. They were kind of opposite. They kind of annoyed each other and complained about one another even though we all knew they truly loved each other. I remember one night soon after my grandmother passed while hysterically crying, John cracked a joke that my mother must have made the snide remark “So soon?” when seeing my grandmother on the other side. I immediately stopped crying and started laughing. I laugh about it until today. It’s how they were here and just what my mother would have said. I don’t really talk to John very much anymore, but I do know that if I ever picked up the phone and needed to talk about them, he’d be there and laugh about it all. It would help me to feel better.

 

The following person who I know would naturally group them together is my father. My father is in his own world most of the time, but also has his moments of missing them. My folks were divorced and both remarried when my mom passed, but my father will often talk about her fondly and replay some highlights he remembers as a young man living and hanging out with my grandmother. I can likely count on him to pick up the phone and talk, but he could turn on a flash and remember something he didn’t like, with the potential of the conversation heading to a place I’m not interested in going.

 

The only other person in this world I imagine would lump them together is my Uncle Jack. He is my aunt Fran and my mom’s brother. We don’t communicate often and are not close. My own children would probably be right behind my uncle, but they knew very little of my mother because she lived in Florida when they were of an age of remembering anything. They do remember my grandmother very well and still laugh about her and her sayings. But they wouldn’t understood the relationship these two women played in our family and with one another. They were only 8 and 10 when my grandmother passed.

 

Tonight I was thinking about how few people on this earth knew them that I know and could understand the grief from losing these two particular individuals in such a close time span. There aren’t many, and fewer that I could count on. This got me thinking about the passage of time. Thomas is already a sophomore. My heart is also broken because he was supposed to come home this weekend for his Columbus Day break. He asked for the weekend off from his job in Maine, but he ended up on the work schedule. He told me Tuesday night after I had prepared his room and stocked up on his favorite foods. I was really excited to see him and super disappointed that he won’t be home. He tried to find someone to cover for him and until today I thought there still might be a chance. But no luck. I know I should feel happy that he is healthy and sound and a good kid overall, but I’m still sad that I won’t get to see him.

 

I thought about how this is Gabby’s last year of high school and next year I won’t see her everyday either. Then they will have boyfriends and girlfriends, then perhaps spouses and in-laws. That is great, except they will visit with these folks who very likely will not live anywhere in the vicinity of where I am living and be spending many holidays with their friends and significant other’s families. Until this point in my life I had them for all the holidays and special occasions. I made a little deal out of every holiday – even the small ones like Valentines Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, and especially Halloween. I LOVE the fall and usually bake fall goodies, make crockpot meals, decorate, pumpkin pick, etc… but soon there will be no one around to do these things for. Wow. It just really hit me tonight. I always knew this intellectually and talked about it and even felt sad about it. However, tonight I feel it deeply. My grandmother used to try to explain this to me and tell me to relax and enjoy my young family, but I didn’t quite get it. I do now. I likely will understand even more deeply as time marches on.

 

If we only had the wisdom of some of this deep knowledge earlier on. We should be listening to the older generation. The older generations try to tell the younger ones, but the lack of experience prevents them from understanding. They think they understand. I thought I did. I think I understand now, but ask me again in 20 years and I might say, boy I really really get it now. We all grow older. Our kids move on. People we are close with leave our lives for various reasons. The things we take for granted will not always be around. The world is impermanent and ever changing. Why do we think we can hold onto anything?

 

The real wisdom is when we understand that change is inevitable and sadness has just as much of a role as happiness. And the real serenity is when we can come to peace with this knowledge and just enjoy the ride on this big ol’ blue ball that is careening through space, spinning us around and around every day while whipping our line of sight past the moon and sun.

 

Time gave me more space in between episodes of grief, but it didn’t erase the grief. Time gave me older children but I don’t love them any less nor can I come to terms with their leaving the nest any easier. Time gave me more wisdom, but after some periods it might have been useful to understand it. Time put ten years of miles of space from where the earth was in the universe when my mom got sick. Time changed many many things from that point, and time will only change many more in the days to come.

 

Maybe this is all a little too deep for some. I’m feeling a little deep. I’m sad that the main child rearing years will soon be behind me. And all in all I just really miss my mom and grandma right now. To give myself a good laugh so I can get to sleep tonight I’ll purposely recall John’s remark of “So soon?”.

 

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Peace.