The Secret Ingredient

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When I was in University, there was an art film theatre in town, and I had a subscription. One of the fundraisers they did for [I don’t remember what] was a viewing of Como Agua para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), and then dinner of all the things in the book/movie. Food and the preparation of food is a very important theme in the movie. When a character cries into the batter of a wedding cake, everyone who eats it is melancholy for lost loves. Right at the end – spoiler alert – the narrator says that as long as someone cooks [the protagonist]’s recipes, she will live on.

I kind of feel like that with my Uncle Jack’s cookbooks. After he died, I inherited them all. There were bits of paper tucked into pages with ingredient lists and notes that he made whilst watching his cooking shows. I kept all the bits of paper, but I got rid of many of the cookbooks. There are certainly recipes that he made that I couldn’t eat without thinking of him – I’ve got those. Like the Coquilles St-Jacques that he made in little shell-shaped dishes. Or Cherries Jubilee that he set aflame for my sister’s birthday. Those things might be solidly OK made by someone else. But they wouldn’t have the same magical *something * that my Uncle Jack put in there.

Who knows what that something is?

Yep – love. He gathered his nieces and nephews to him and made us great meals.

It’s the same thing that makes me keep the things that Aunt Muriel and Great Grandma Whitwell and my Auntie V’s friend Evelyn knitted or crocheted for Child when he was a wee handful of boy (not the 6 foot plus man he is now). Someone loved my kid enough to spend time dedicated to a gift for him.

Last weekend there was an episode on the CBC about how Reiki works, even if it doesn’t work. It talked about placebo effect and how if your brain thinks that something is true, it can convince the rest of you that it’s true. So just kind of waving your hands over someone and having that hand-wavey goodness heal someone seems… swindley. And yet, it works. There will be doubters, and that’s fine. The woman in the episode said that she was dubious when took the Reiki practitioner training. She asked the person training her what she should be thinking about as she waved her hands over her practise partner. The trainer said that the focus point was wanting good things for the person. And she figured out that, at the very heart of it, the point was that you were concentrating on good intentions for the person.

I’ve been thinking about how often directed good thoughts are invoked. When I say that I’ve run through my quota of curse words for the week, my friends give me an extra “Jinkies” or “Holy shirtballs” from their surplus – because they know it makes me laugh, and that drains a bit of the whitehotfury out of my system. When someone is celebrating a birthday, we all send them good wishes. We sign our emails with “Best regards” or “Cheers”. When someone is facing a challenge, we send them, in whatever words we individually wrap around them, our support. We focus energy outward for the benefit of someone else. And sometimes, that someone perceives it and it provides a however-brief respite from their troubles. Win-win

When my sister had back surgery a few years ago, I sent out a message to my social media friends – I’m calling in all my favours. Send good thoughts toward Vancouver. Many responded that they would do just that – not for me, necessarily, but for my sister. Some of them have never met her. But they spend a few seconds of their day to focus goodness toward a stranger because I asked them to.

For RC kids, it also manifests in thoughts and prayers in anticipation of (and defence against) a tragedy either personal or public. I know that for some people, thoughts and prayers is slactivism – both on the intention and the perception. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a praying Catholic. I believe that there is power in prayer. But even Pope Francis says that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. There needs to be action. Still, religious folks pray. And truly, when my friend’s son was unwell, and I said I would pray for him, I meant it. When a relative’s mother-in-law was dying, and I invoked saints (as I’m wont to do, regularly) to help comfort this woman in her last moments, and her family in their grief, meant that, too. I stand behind the directed good of prayers.

But I digress.

This week, I attended a public memorial service for my favourite author, Tomie dePaola. One of the speakers was talking about his eponymous character Strega Nonna. In an early story, Big Anthony, in Strega Nonna’s absence, invoked the magic pasta pot, but realized – too late – that he didn’t know how to make it stop bubbling up more pasta. He knew the incantation, but he didn’t know that she also blew three magic kisses. The gratitude part. The loving intention part. That was how Tomie conducted his whole life – he was grateful for what he had, he didn’t forget that it took a village to do anything, and he paid it forward.

Maybe Reiki is a scam. And maybe prayers are just poems tossed into the sky. But you know, I’m happier knowing that there are people, everywhere, who throw three magic kisses over the pasta pot of life.

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