Buckle in, because I’m going to talk about death, grief, and fatigue – but! There’ll be a great soup recipe at the end! Balance!
I hesitated sharing this, because it would appear that I have already talked a lot about death on here. Sorry. Unless you’d prefer I’d talk about one of life’s other inevitabilities, like…taxes?!
It’s just that death is inescapable, both literally and figuratively. And it’s odd to me that our culture spends so little time talking openly about it, when: it touches everyone’s life, it’s something we are all going to do, and it is the most obvious way to create meaning and purpose.
I wouldn’t say I’m fascinated by death itself; instead I’m more interested in how life continues after death. How do we carry on when something in our lives no longer is?
Grief can happen in so many forms. Of course there’s the grief of a loved one’s passing, but there’s also grief for your childhood (oh, those simple days!), grief for your pre-baby body (when my body was only mine and not a feeding machine!), grief for a pre-Internet world (phones with cords! Less distractions! Non-pasteurized milk!) – grieving the loss of something can essentially be happening, moment by moment, as life is a constantly shifting parade of situations and permutations.
Except this: that grieving is not happening. In an increasingly pressurized world, where our attention is frazzled by blinking notifications, where financial security is becoming as nostalgic as a white picket fence, and who knows what will happen with climate change – it is easy to feel squeezed from all sides, and that the only option is to keep pushing the rock up the mountain, even when you know it’s going to roll down anyway. There is no time to grieve, no time for mourning, because if you stop, you’ll get squished.
Grief requires you to stop. It requires life to pause, in order to be fully felt. The margin in our lives that allows us to pause is shrinking. Grief is not economically productive, and while you might gain some social currency by sharing it online, it is short-lived, because the emotional bandwidth of others is already thin. Besides, everyone is tired, and already muting your posts anyway.
I can feel my brain changing. Like most everyone else, I have fallen into the habit of compulsively checking my phone, waiting for the latest catastrophe, or the top three life hacks to optimize my sleep, or a soothing image of a monstera plant in a white ceramic vase on a blush-pink woven rug to prevent my eyeballs from bleeding. All the Hollywood movies where the artificial intelligence becomes sentient and it becomes a war between humans and AI – in a way, it’s already happening. The algorithms that determine what shows up in your social media feed and the sidebars of websites touting advertisements are designed to make you want to look, want to engage, want to surrender your attention to the highest, most flashiest bidder. They are attacking, even if your fists aren’t up.
How can we create time to stop? How can we allow for grieving to unfold, as it is a necessary aspect of the human experience?
In the past, I’ve tried the social media detox thing. It was somewhat helpful, but I felt disconnected, and when I rejoined, I found I slid back to addictively clicking. It was a short, temporary respite. I’ll probably do it again in the future but I am realistic about its benefits.
I’ve heard of others petitioning for companies to instigate interruptions in their online interfaces to modulate addictive behaviour. I’m certainly glad that others have taken on this fight, but I don’t know if that’s where I want to be.
My current strategy is to keep my phone on silent mode, resting face down. Futile? Probably.
I grieve my pre-smartphone brain. I grieve an earlier time of disconnect, silence, and incandescent light bulbs. I grieve being eight, when my only options were to watch X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings (or both, because you’d switch the channel between the two during commercial breaks). I grieve my naïveté, that I didn’t know how special it was to work through being a teenager without Instagram.
I grieve the present; that I, like so many others, are struggling to figure out how to stay engaged and connected, to do our civic duty of being informed (ideally, by truthful reporting), while holding onto our sanity and sovereignty.
The other day someone said something like this to me, “You don’t seem to have many problems,” – I don’t recall the context, because the statement completely shocked me. It was so incorrect, so childish, so selfish.
I don’t appear to have many problems because I don’t air them online. I share them privately, in-person, with a small circle of people whom I trust and haven’t annoyed the shit out of (yet). In the end, this person’s statement showed how little they knew about me, and how, despairingly, things don’t seem to count unless they are announced online.
There have been many deaths, and there will be many more. I’m not sure how to proceed, but I know that my individual strength plays a role in the collective’s strength. Living with the certainty that Sisyphus is my homeboy, I know that I’ll need to fortify myself so I can take a turn at pushing that boulder up the mountain, and give him a break.
There are many days that feel like a scramble, and I have to admit that I am not always good at catching myself before the deep fatigue sets in. I also refuse to accept that it’s all up to me, as an individual, to change the trajectory of the collective. It is a strange form of conceit to think that if I sleep eight hours a day, plunge my skin with coconut oil, chomp through all the vegetables, and #livemytruth, that everything will be fine.
Meanwhile, I savour the small victories. One way that reliably bolsters me, both physically and spiritually, is to cook. When I cook, I don’t check my phone, and I hardly ever listen to music or a podcast. It is just me, in my kitchen. I rarely follow a recipe; I open the fridge, see what ingredients are before me, and let the alchemy occur. Even though so much of my food is sourced from far away places, it still feels more real to me than anything spewing forth from a screen. I can use all my senses, not just my woefully abused eyes, to create something good for us to eat. Also, it takes time to make a meal, like a good thirty minutes or more, not 20 seconds like in those Tasty videos with the disembodied hands. It is a level of temporality that I can actually compute, and am grounded and comforted by.
The last time I made this soup, was for the meditation retreat I catered for my teacher, Jonathan. That was about seven years ago I think, and now I make it again as a gift for a friend whose father recently passed away. It is light on the palate and soothing for the body, and doesn’t mind being eaten with one’s mind half elsewhere, because that’s how it is sometimes when our world changes irrevocably.
Brothy soup w/ mushrooms, spinach, and orange vegetables
Makes a lot
This recipe calls for dried mushrooms, but of course you can use fresh ones if you’d rather. I do find that dried mushrooms add more silkiness and depth of flavour to the broth – and also, accommodates for any apocalyptic-esque behaviour that might arise in the waves of hysteria that are characterizing our modern times.
A generous handful of dried mushrooms (a variety, or just shiitake)
A medium-sized sweet potato
A small knob of fresh ginger
1 bundle of green onions
Several fistfuls of baby spinach
Lemon/lime juice, to taste
Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 L of room temperature water for at least an hour, or until they start to feel soft. If the mushrooms are really large (like whole shiitakes), then slice them into a more manageable size so that a piece doesn’t flop off your spoon when you’re eating it and cause a catastrophic splash of hot soup all over you.
Dice the sweet potato and carrots into cubes. Heat your cooking oil of choice in a large soup pot over medium heat, and throw in the sweet potato and carrot. Let it cook and colour slightly.
Pour in the mushrooms and water. Grate in the fresh ginger. Bring to a boil, and then put the lid on and turn the heat down. Let it simmer until the sweet potato and carrots are cooked through. Add the finely chopped green onions and spinach. Stir until the spinach is wilted down. Season with salt and a healthy squeeze of lemon or lime juice. If you find there’s not enough liquid, feel free to add a splash of hot water. Best served in a silent atmosphere with all smartphones in the other room.