Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gifts We Bring to the Feast

I have wasted too much time spinning in frustration that I have not become the famous author I once dreamed I would be, with all my manuscripts published and all those books selling well. I don’t know why I thought I was so special that the hand of providence would touch me with the magic of a far-reaching distinguished literary career. I worked hard for it and I do have some talent. But life rarely turns out to be what we imagined.

I have a friend who makes the most extraordinary handmade paper, foldout books, and what she calls “portable altars,” which are foldout collages with spiritual themes or with memorabilia honoring a person who has passed into spirit. I have a friend who makes mosaics of exquisite beauty inset on furniture, in decorative pictures, and as part of everyday objects. I have a friend who plays guitar and sings to knock your socks off. I have a friend who cooks the most delectable dinners. I have friends who paint, garden, quilt, write, dance, photograph, sew, make wine, play soccer, build houses, interpret dreams, grow lemons, and are knowledgeable about so many things. I know people with such talent, who are at the top of their game at an enormous array of amazing and various pursuits, who are super accomplished at something the way I am accomplished at writing. Are any of us famous? A few are, in their field. I am famous within a 20-mile radius of my house. Stay with me as I veer off in an unexpected direction. Trust me. This is related.

There is a 1987 Danish film called Babette’s Feast, based on a story written by Isak Dinesen (AKA Karen Blixen). It was written and directed by Gabriel Axel. Here is the link to a trailer. Let me see if I can summarize the aspect of this film that applies to my line of thought. A French refugee named Babette arrives in a Danish village to work as the housekeeper for two aging spinster sisters. They cannot pay her but she works for room and board. There is an allusion to a mysterious terrible bloody political upheaval in Paris that took the lives of her husband and child. She has a gift for cooking and she uses it to cook delicious restorative food for the aging ill and poor people of the village. She takes soup to the housebound and a hot evening meal to the sick. In this way, over a period of 14 years, she becomes a part of village life in a quiet, devoutly Christian, out-of-the-way place. Then she wins the lottery in France. (An old friend buys her a ticket and gives it to her and it’s the winning one.) So Babette announces that she will cook a super-gourmet French dinner (a feast) for the spinster sisters who took her in when she was destitute, as well as for some of their family and other friends in this little village. She sends to Paris for the exotic ingredients she needs to cook the feast. All those invited to the feast have been kind to Babette. (There is a great deal more to this story.) Babette cooks an extraordinary feast. Afterward, the sisters assume that Babette will return to Paris. But Babette reveals that she was formerly the head chef of the Cafe Anglais, the finest restaurant in Paris, and she tells the sisters that dinner for 12 at the Cafe Anglais costs 10,000 francs, precisely what she won in the lottery. One of the sisters says, "Now you will be poor for the rest of your life," to which Babette replies, "An artist is never poor." Ah yes, the wealth of the imagination. 

I tell this story, Dinesen’s story, because I am touched by the concept of using one’s gifts, one’s talents, simply for the delight of those who inhabit one’s corner of the world; just as Babette uses her gift to delight those in her immediate community; not just with her feast, but also (mainly) with the 14 years of cooking for the ill and aged. So it is with me and with most others who are so gifted. We each have our domain in which we are, in fact, extraordinary artists and therefore never poor and therefore fortunate to have something to contribute to the feast. We continue to do what we love, what we know, what we do well, for the benefit of the small circle of people whom we have the pleasure to touch with our lives. We share our gifts for the delight of dear ones, acquaintances, strangers-in-passing, and the many others who cross our paths.

I am not famous. I have not made a big splash. Few people have read my books or my blog; but some of those who have read my words found something meaningful in those words, which I so painstakingly and lovingly crafted. Whom did I craft them for? Honestly, for whomever would read them. I have tried so hard to make my work matter and I have so often felt that it didn’t, it hasn’t. Lately, I feel that all of it has indeed mattered, that it does matter; and I am at peace with where my gift for writing has taken me. I can reconcile the version of the self I have become with the self I wanted to be. I have touched lives. Fewer than I had wished, but enough. So it is with all of us as we use our talents for one another – to delight and comfort, praise and support, communicate with and stimulate to thought, share life and break bread, celebrate and mourn, give a laugh and pass on information, etc. and etc. That in itself is enough purpose to it, enough accomplishment. Such is the nature of the gifts that each of us brings to the feast of life.

Babette prepares food for the feast.

No comments: