Finding the Strength

Life has its hard knocks and when it knocks we feel the pain deeply, whether it be the death of a family member or friend, the loss of a job, the loss of self, it hurts.  

But life has a softer touch, a gentle rhythmic tapping sound on the shoulder, in the ear, the heart–a tap, tap, tapping reminder of time going by. 

As I approach 50, I feel the tick-tocking of time more acutely.  I watch my friends grow older, my favorite icons or mentors die, my parents ripen to a rich old age (for which I am grateful), and my own children move into adulthood!  This life, with its starts and finishes, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows, ups and downs, the good and uglies all move to the dance of time.  And what a dance it is. 

I am thrilled to be alive, and soak in each day like a sponge–the sun as it rises, the grapes as they turn, my family as it grows and contributes to life itself.  Still, there are times, when bad news comes in for me or a loved one, when we need strength, courage, or a great sense of humor to make sense of it all. 

As an adult, I derive strength from my well of family, friends, country surroundings, pets, stories, poetry, exercise, past experiences and of course, from our Nicolas Alexander 2007 vintage. (One must have wine!)

Growing up, I found strength in my childhood home, where my parents provided security, and stability, a roof over my head, food on the table, land to run free and love to dive into each and every day. 

I grew strong in mind, body and spirit on my mother‘s muscle soup.  I don’t remember a pain, a trouble, a care in the world that wasn’t cured by my mother’s muscle soup.  It was the end all, be all, for life’s trials and tribulations. 

With my father, it was curiosity and lively debate at the dinner table that fed our souls. 

With my mother, what mattered most to her (besides her independence) was food, cooking and attending to our basic needs: food, security and love. 

Here in the wine country, M.F.K. Fisher, who lived her life in Glen Ellen, CA. wrote this in The Art of Eating.

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

I know what my mother and Fisher meant when they talked and lived by these words.   It was just last week, the rain was coming down and all I wanted to do was make a pot of my mother’s muscle soup.  As I put the ingredients into the pot, stirred the olive oil, minced garlic, fresh basil leaves, soaked lentils, chopped green peppers, and a little tomato sauce, these delicious smells filled my kitchen.  I felt whole, happy, alive.

I was one with the world.

5 thoughts on “Finding the Strength”

  1. Susan, thank you for being a loyal reader to my winecountrydiaries blog. I will e-mail you the recipe to my mother’s muscle soup, if I don’t decide to post it!. It will sustain you throughout your days, I guarantee. And, so delicious.

  2. Hello from Chicago where we are fortunate enough to share a second home with Monica (and family)!

    After much wind and rain, the sky is blue and sun is out this morning trying to raise temps to the 50’s. As I texted Monica yesterday, we ventured out last night to see a small Chicago theater company of “Pippin” written in 1972. One of my favorite musicals written by the Stephen Schwartz – who also wrote Godspell, Wicked, and several Academy Award winning songs for Disney animated films. Anyway, the lyrics of this musical reminded me of what Monica practices in her life and writes so beautifully about…..

    I highly recommend listening to the actual song as the rythmn is terrific!

    From the song “Simple Joys”

    Sweet summer evenings, hot wine and bread
    Sharing your supper, sharing your bed
    Simple joys have a simple voice
    It says, “Why not go ahead?”
    And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
    Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
    Than a man who never learns how to be free
    Not ’til he’s cold and dead

    Well, I’ll sing you a story of a sorrowful lad
    Had everything he wanted, didn’t want what he had
    He had wealth and pelf and fame and name and all of that noise
    But he didn’t have none of those simple joys
    His life seemed purposeless and flat
    Aren’t you glad you don’t feel like that?

    So he ran from all the deeds he’d done, he ran from things he’d just begun
    He ran from himself, which was mighty far to run
    Out into the country where he’d played as a boy
    ‘Cause he knew he had to find him some simple joy
    He wanted someplace warm and green
    We all could use a change of scene

    Sweet summer evenings, so full of sound
    Gaining a lover, gaining a pound
    Simple joys have a simple voice
    It says, “Take a look around”
    And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
    Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
    Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
    Than a man who never learns how to be free
    Not ’til he’s underground

    Sweet summer evenings, sapphire skies
    Feasting your belly, feasting your eyes
    Simple joys have a simple voice
    It says, “Time is living’s prize”
    And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
    Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
    Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
    Or a fig on a twig in Galilee
    Than a man who never learns how to be free
    Not ’til the day he, not ’til the day he
    Not ’til the day, not ’til the day he

    1. Wow Nora! I was about to get on my bike and take pictures of the beautiful barns along the way in the wine country when your blog comment came in. What a reply, what a song you share. “Simple Joys,” the philosophy, the way of living is spot on, beautiful and true. Freedom is enlightenment. Thank you for sharing this with me. You have no idea the affect it has on me.

  3. Good morning, Monica

    Although this post was written in October I think it most appropriate for Thanksgiving weekend – the time I am committing to “catching up with your postings!”

    I love your metaphor regarding aging = the dance of time. Life is truly is a dance where there are smooth times as with waltzes, tangos for those times where we are not sure what direction we are going, and jitterbugs for those bumpy times where life sends us curves, not always easy ones at that.

    Your descriptions of the impact your mother and father had on you reminds me of my parents, too. My mother was a great cook with interesting recipes where we learned to eat “weird food” (as described by my friends) such as Spanish tripe – something I still love. With my dad, it was stimulating debates at the table where my brother and I were involved in discussing current events feeding my love for current events today, however depressing they seem to be at times.

    M.F.K. Fisher’s life staples of: food-security-love are so right on especially for this special time of year. Thanksgiving allows us to express love to our family and friends, eat marvelous food, and appreciate all the things were are fortunate to have in our lives here in Sonoma and in our country.

    The picture of you and your mother is wonderful especially since it’s in the kitchen, a place where you both love to be. Also, in feeding my birds this morning, I saw some of my first camellias by the fountain. I know this graceful flower is valued by your mother and you when first appearing in winter – something you wrote about last year.

    So, we truly have a great deal for which to be thankful during this special time of year where Thanksgiving focuses on food (and good wine), security, and love!


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