“How about lunch?” I ask my father. “It’ll have to be quick he responds I have an appointment later.” This was impromptu; I was happy with what I could get; after all I’d just walked in to his office unexpected. As we go down the elevator, he asks if his local lunch spot is okay.
I follow his lead as we enter a nondescript coffee shop bustling with the lunch crowd. He motions to the counter where two adjacent seats are available. The waitress places water and menus in front of us and exchanges hellos with my father. “Are you having your usual, grilled Swiss?” He smiles and says, “Yes.” “I’ll have the same,” I second, not wanting to bother with the menu.
A few minutes later, our sandwiches are in front of us. I pick mine up with my fingers, as I’ve grown accustomed to doing. He, on the other hand, picks up his knife and fork. First he takes a little mustard and puts it on the side of the plate and then slices off a small piece of pickle. He then places them both on a part of the sandwich that he has just cut, then delicately puts it into his mouth and savors the flavors. As I observe him, I realize that he is having a meal that is as wonderful to eat as it is to watch.
I wipe my greasy hands on my napkin and look down at my plate. I haven’t even taken the time to taste what is in my mouth. Watching my father eat his grilled cheese sandwich had given me more enjoyment than eating my own.
Never being one to not try something that looks good, I pick up my knife and place a little mustard on my plate, copying everything he has just done. I taste what I have just put into my mouth, the flavors merge and contrast each other with every bite—I am delighted. We continue our conversation, and I notice I sit a little straighter as though I am in a fine restaurant, fully enjoying the pleasure I am experiencing.
The flatness of the days that pass by while we stay in isolation are numbing and it’s not going to change soon. But remembering the moment when a greasy grilled cheese changed into a dining experience reminds me that we have the power to change how we perceive our experiences. It may not be easy to do but it’s worth giving it a try.
If you are used to eating casual meals, just to get through the event change it around. In the 1930s people would change for meals, some into formal evening wear. That certainly will change how you experience your meal. Even if you don’t alter what you eat, you can change how you eat it, as my father did with his grilled cheese.
It hasn’t been a great year but it could be a lot worse—we could be fighting a war on our land, or be imprisoned unable to cook our own meals or have Zoom calls with friends. I’m not trying to make-believe that everything is okay; it’s not.
I am trying to see how we can make the time we have every day just a little bit better. I think it’s worth trying.
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Having a party again is simply wonderful. Every summer, Mark, my husband, makes a gigantic paella and we invite friends to watch the process (trust me, it is a show) and eat the amazing results. The party always occurs between the 4th of July and the 14th, Bastille Day. Are you wondering why we make a paella to . . .