Read The Directions First
La Dolce Vita
(A Recipe) For The ‘Sweet Life’
Over our lives, we develop quite a palette for the bountiful buffet of personalities out there. We learn what seems to “taste good” and pretty much agree on what or who seems to leave a bad taste in our mouths. We learn that in the kitchen of life, where we concoct recipes for how to deal with everyday reality, no true surprises are produced.
This is as it should be as the ingredients for life’s sweetest, most nourishing and sustaining meals are not that mysterious. We all have access to them. If there is any magic, it is in remembering the tried and true recipes. As is so often the case with us mere mortals, we forget them fastest when we need them most, such as when tumor is the rumor and cancer is the answer.
Certainly, when suspecting or being diagnosed with cancer, all hell can break loose emotionally and other ways. Granted, it is tough to start thinking about poetic notions like recipes for the “sweet life”. It may seem like whimsical pabulum or the stuff of nice sounding adolescent romantic novels.
Fair enough. Most cancer patients are not adolescents and cancer is not a romantic novel. We all know that if ever there is a time to get it right, put on your game face, follow the rules and pay attention to what momma taught you and “get religion”, it is when you are in the foxholes handed out randomly by fate.
Equally true is that the mindset, the lifestyle with which you embrace the disease has immense impact. Repeatedly, I have seen families and patients have meaningful improvement in handling the gamut of emotions that occur from rumor of tumor to cancer as the answer when they affect a simple yet profound attitude. Namely, they remember what works best in frightening times. In my thirty years of watching this transition from fear to fortune, the remembering of the recipe for a sweet fulfilling and enriching life is a practical part of the battle gear when putting on armor and engaging the beast.
There is good news. The best recipes always taste better when you are famished or when tough times hit the cupboard of our lives. Similarly, there is nothing quite like good ole home cooking. Remember times when gramps had a little G.I. indiscretion, dad quipped about stepping on a frog and your little brother shot peas through his nose from laughing so hard while mom acted utterly disgusted muttering, “when in God’s name can we ever have a nice family dinner?” Of course you do, in some manner or another. Being with those you love and loving every moment when the main thing on the menu was not pretentious made it easy to digest heaping helpings of love. There is nothing more nutritious.
Therefore, as regards recipes for living when first hit with the diagnosis; the more you can nourish and sustain yourself in the company and care of those who love you and whom you love, the better the meal.
Now let us look at how God made us to be nourished and how to sustain ourselves with calories that can build more than just courage. Let us read the directions we came with for a sweet life in the midst of not so sweet news.
Beware pretenders and offenders to common sense when it comes to nutritious lifestyles just as you would beware magical promises of cancer cures. Mothers are rarely wrong. So for starters, do just like momma said and pay attention when better judgment tells you, “Don’t eat that, it’s not good for you! Stay away from the too pretty packaging. Be wary of the wham bam, have I got a deal for you empty calorie garbage that will seem to pop out of everywhere from the internet to the airwaves, late night TV and trendy quick fix it self help books with titles that seductively “OH My God” seem to talk just to you…. Yes, only you! Of course, there are many well-intentioned and indeed very helpful things out there in the world. However, if it seems too good to be true, if it goes against common sense, if it does not pass the mommy test (“ where did you hear that nonsense”)…go back to the basics that have been there since man first sought to alleviate suffering and live the good life.
The best recipes come from seasoned chefs who have tossed quite a lot of “salad” in their lives. These are folks, as you and I, who have made many meals in tough times. They have burnt some and undercooked others but they know what really works. Here is what seems to top the list of appetizing aptitudes and attitudes that make a great recipe for a sweet life during tough times.
We said in the dedication and introduction and it will echo repeatedly throughout the book that you are not alone and there is a shared nature to humanity. Nothing makes you incomprehensible or unlovable.
The same is true for recipes for life; they nourish all.
From Plato to Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, thoughtful Thoreau to inane Inspector Clouseau or the wisdoms of Gandhi or Christ and to whomever your sage best model for life may be, the recipe is unchanged. Certain ingredients just keep popping up. They are all readily available in the cupboards of your heart and the pantry of your minds. They are all essential for a substantial nourishing life. They will all keep meat on your bones and sizzle in your soul when the tough times, like the diagnosis of cancer, come calling. Best of all, the only entrance criteria to the kitchen to cook up your own concoction is a pulse.
Start with a pound of purpose. Lock and load up on plenty. No matter how dark, dismal or desperate things are, with purpose there is a path and ample provision for your heart and soul.
Add a pinch of productivity. Just get your hands dirty and make something, anything more than it was to start with. Dirty hands can clean minds just as fuel treatments blow the carbon out of our carburetors.
Then stir in cream of creativity. Remember, this singular gift marks you as the most wondrous of all creations. Only humans have that divine spark, the ability to create. It may be a ship in a bottle, a new gizmo whatchyamacallit patent or a smile on someone’s face. Your creativity is not about scope and grandeur. It is about keeping the flame alive. It is about the ability to affect the world around you in manner that no matter how infinitesimal, you left it with more and better than how it found you.
Then simmer. Some folks called it ciphering, chewing it over or sleeping on it. It never means dwell or getting ready to boil or blow up. It means have a gentle patience with your endeavors remembering you already met the only entrance criteria in the kitchen in the first place, a pulse. In addition, remember that there is no egg timer in hatching goodness.
Take time and have faith that your endeavors will bear fruit and soon the sweet sizzling aroma of creative productivity will fill you up. Productivity and creativity are seemingly separate but they are mutually wonderful, intimately intertwined and together make for magic. Sort of like life, eh? The stew of life is always better than the sum of its parts.
Next, lightly flour this meal with forgiveness. Always have some on hand. Moreover, it only works if you give more of it away than you recently got – darndest thing how that works! Even better, opportunities to use it are never in short supply.
Add two, no, add three heaping helpings of humor. In the final analysis, you will never laugh so deeply, as when your favorite comedian is yourself. Granted, it is a tough gig and phew, what a hard audience but when you get the auto-giggle going, look out, its life sustaining and infectious.
Carmelize the entire concoction with kindness. Best way to do that is blind and almost random. Just like forgiveness, have it ready to add a little loving crust to seal in the sweetness. You will know when, you always do.
Of course, you have to have tunes. Start to sing, hum, whistle, do whatever you do that makes the melody of your mind, the rhythm of your walk, your own little ‘idiotsymphony’ come to life. Moreover, never miss a chance to invite others to join the band. Giggling, chortling, guffaws and hearty Ho-Ho’s count; they are always in key.
Now, as soon as you can, run around the kitchen twice. Wow the world that you are animated and alive. Toss a tomato, juggle a ju ju bee, and assault the pits, cherry-avocado or life. No matter what, do it with flare and keep moving to your groove
Now close your eyes and savor smells. Seek out the scent of a woman, a man, puppy breath, New England autumn leaves or your mammas lasagna. Repeat every time the stink of suffering or worry tweaks your nose.
Remember, if you do not cut yourself every now and then, singe a few hairs and are burned a tad or two, this recipe for life just will not turn out right. Every master chef experiences pain so be prepared. The pain free kitchen is not worth cooking in and momma was right, the pain of the fear of pain can be twice as disabling as the real thing.
Finally, find a window, any window and look to the sky. Look for the glow of others enriched by passing through the tale and tail of your comet, as well as theirs.
Bon Appétit! Mangiare Bene! Enjoy!