Quiet Acts of Generosity, Encore

It was on Twitter that I discovered the glitch of the unfinished journal being distributed.

As I waited for the water to boil for my morning tea, I switched on my mini iPad to check email and touch in with social media. For a moment, I was utterly puzzled—I hadn’t “tweeted” or posted a Soul Artist Journal post, but there it was on my Twitter account. In a split second, I realized what had happened during the website upload process last night and simultaneously I felt my stomach constrict into a tight fist.

Ughbugger! How I loathe making those kind of oversights and errors.

Hastily I composed a note to send out to my readers (complete with poor editing), deleted the post on Twitter, and then went back to the kitchen for my morning tea and breakfast. My dear aunt, Sue Ann, promptly beamed through with a kindly reassuring message, “I believe we have all been there in one way or another, and aren’t we all the more endeared one to another for the experiences…” Bless you, Aunty.

As I sat with the steaming pot and my favorite blue English teacup, I pondered the possible lesson or gift of the situation—there’s always a gift—and continued to oscillate between chagrin and amusement. Sipping the fragrant brew (which had steeped just a bit too long and tasted bitter), I decided that rather than sending out “Spiraling Through Time,” my intended New Year’s offering, I would instead finish the abandoned entry, and share my complete thoughts about the Solstice evening.

Thus, to that end… here we go:

~

In some ways the evening didn’t go the way that I hoped that it would. As I wrote to my dear friend, Sara, in soggy Kent, England:

“My Solstice soirée went off without a hitch but, honestly, I cannot say that I enjoyed myself. As you can guess, I worked for hours on the food because every single item is tabletopprepared from scratch… but I suffered a good deal of stress over the house and table not being ready in a timely fashion. I am normally very organized with these sorts of things but the table had not been set the day before as I planned. You see, I discovered that we no longer have a suitable tablecloth for the table at its maximum extension (as it needs to be for ten guests), nor did I have suitable matching linens for ten. (These were casualties of the rather extreme downsizing that occurred when we departed Spain; non-essential items were disposed of and given away.) Robert insisted that we find appropriate table dressing and I acquiesced. The morning of the event, he and his mum went out on a mission and were gone for five hours.

Because there are always so many last minute details to attend to, I get extremely stressed if the house and table are not sorted well before the event. When Rob and Jane finally returned, the new linens had to be washed and pressed… meanwhile the clock was ticking down. I was grouchy. Luckily, most all the food was prepped by this time, so I was able to keep my less-than-pleasant energy vibes free of the food I had lovingly blessed whilst I had prepared it.

With laying out the place settings, array of wine glasses (three different wines, three different glasses for each guest), decorating with ribbons and candles and baubles and whatnot, the table wasn’t ready until an hour before the guests were due (our neighbor, Chuck, arrived half an hour early, of course). Because of the time I lost sorting out the table setting, I was still hastily working on the salad ingredients when guests arrived… so I remained in the kitchen and did not get to sit and enjoy the hors d’oeuvres and Champagne in the living room. C’est la vie. 

Apart from work (which I generally don’t mind) and the last minute stress, my main disappointment was that there was nothing soulful about the evening. Partly this had to do with the guest list… and that our few soulful/’spooky’ friends live elsewhere. I so dearly wished that you and others could have joined us. I sat down throughout the evening to eat the food on my own plate and join the small talk, but mostly I kept busy serving, clearing, and preparing the next course.

The following day, I put on some nice music and spent a good hour in the kitchen washing all the glasses (they have to be done by hand, of course). In the evening, I sliced up a bit of the Manchego and popped open the remaining, half-finished Champagne bottle (thank the Goddess). I savored my festive glass of bubbly in relative peace… whilst I warmed up the leftovers for our supper.”

Despite the prep work and last minute details, I do enjoy entertaining and celebrating with guests. (And I’m so very glad that I no longer cook professionally.) Because I plate all the courses in the kitchen and then serve to the table, often it’s a tricky balancing act between playing chef and host. Sometimes I succeed at this better than I do at others. I realize that when I finally stepped into the festive spirit of the holidays, I wanted the Solstice dinner to feel special (it’s my chosen fête, after all). When for the various reasons it did not, I suffered my own disappointment, yet I realize that my own expectations had gotten in the way.

Ah, friend, isn’t that ever the ongoing lesson?

In the Soul Artist Journal prior to the party, I wrote that my focus for the evening, what I was really celebrating, was gratitude. Certainly, an abundance of gratefulness floated around the decorated and candlelit table, evidenced in the toasts and cheers that were shared over upraised wine glasses, and also in my guests’ response to the various courses of food laid before them. Yet somehow in my preoccupation and expectations, I missed out on gratitude where it was most essential—in my own heart.

Standing in the kitchen the day after, as I washed, steamed, and polished the glassware with a soft linen cloth, I still felt somewhat let down by the evening overall. Then it occurred to me that perhaps I could relinquish my expectations of how I thought my party should have felt and focus instead on what actually unfolded: the simple act of feeding people with generosity.

My favorite British food writer is the talented and prolific Nigel Slater, who for two decades has written a weekly food column for The Observer and has authored numerous cookery books. Not only do I adore his brilliant oh-so-English prose, but Nigel and I share a passion for understated, non-fussy, rustic food. The sort of food that remembers its roots (and seasons) and doesn’t aim to be something it’s not. He never uses the word “soul” but Nigel and I seem to share a kindred philosophy about the sensual appreciation of the right tools, keeping things simple, and almost everything in the kitchen and being at table. As Mr. Slater puts it:

There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect.”

I would go a step further. It is an offering of nourishment, so desperately lacking in our modern world.

What I presented to our assembled guests on December’s Solstice was not simply a tasty meal at an elegant table, but also a sort of blessing and thanks. An out-of-the-ordinary experience of someone creating lovely food specifically to share with them. Truly, I had prepared the meal with a loving heart, offering a little prayer of gratitude for each and all of the fresh, organic ingredients that collectively conspired to become our feast. (And it wasn’t until setting the table in the final stretch before guests arrived that I lost my center and got knocked off kilter by my expectations.)

I always strive to offer something beautiful and nourishing for senses and soul, for that I think is the joy of the human experience. I have written many things elsewhere about soul, the soul of humanity, and even the Soul of the World, yet if I reduced all those statements and observations down to a single thought, it would be simply this: the heart is love and the soul is celebratory. (And of course these are inextricably linked.)

Soul Artists are people who give themselves away in generosity. They understand that their actions define them in the world. Whether at home or at work, at the table or on the street, sharing with an abundant heart is a soulful act. Part of the great joy in being alive is our capacity to celebrate—the simple beauty of an ordinary object (often they are the most beautiful) or the creative grandeur of the Cosmos. Our quiet acts of generosity are themselves celebratory, especially when we recognize our interrelated connectedness in the web of life. Everything is relationship.

Going forward, rather than hoping that my dinner parties will turn out in a certain way and feeling disappointed when they do not, better to focus simply on nourishing my guests with simple but elegant food that delights the senses and feeds both body and soul. The generosity of the act rests in the preparation and sharing, a simple celebration of our shared humanity. Let all the rest of it go.

The soulful poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Pour yourself out like a fountain…” Gentle reader, as the Gregorian New Year begins, as we spiral once more around the life-giving sun, here’s hoping that you create and share your own quiet acts of generosity. May you give yourself away in the ways that only you can, offering the gifts that are uniquely yours to give, and rest in the quiet knowing that you have made someone’s day the better for it, whether they are human or other.

That said, remember to laugh at the ongoing Cosmic Joke… it’s mostly on our egos.

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