Weekend Reading
April 26, 2020

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

I was chatting with someone recently who mentioned feeling a little more tenderness and appreciation than usual right now. I could relate; I’ve been feeling the same way.

I can think of a few other times in my life when I had this persistent sensation of tenderness, punctuated by moments of downright weepiness. One was my last six months months in D.C,. before I came home to New York for a fresh start. Another was last winter and spring, right after I’d wrapped up my acute and long-term care rotations for my dietetics training. And the last, actually, was the end of this past summer.

These moments share something in common: at all three of them, I’d just recently been reminded of the vulnerability of the human body and the ever-present, if easy-to-forget, precariousness of life. I got really sick before I left D.C., and I was still feeling shaky in my body as I packed up to move back. I spent all of last fall working with sick patients. And I was depressed last summer—an illness, too.

These moments share something else, which is that all of them removed me from my normal routines of doing and accomplishing. I was too tired after my post-bacc, not to mention deflated by the med school rejection, to do much of anything. Even if I’d had any energy, I no longer knew what my professional direction was, and I found it impossible to move in the quick, focused, intentional way I was accustomed to.

I was doing a whole lot last fall, but none of it was familiar. I was so busy commuting to rotations and trying to keep up with the learning curve of my training that I didn’t have time to obsess over how much I was writing, producing, cooking, creating.

And last summer there was depression, which for me is always characterized by incredible difficulty accomplishing anything, big or small. For someone who was consistently energetic and productive for a long time, the mental health ups and downs of my mid-thirties and the pauses they create have been deeply humbling, an unwelcome but important lesson in accepting myself exactly as I am.

It occurred to me this week that this moment shares some similarity with the other periods of tenderness and heart-softening that I’ve just mentioned. Of course, with a pandemic just outside my front door, I’m more conscious than usual of the vulnerability of the body. And even though I’ve had my moments of wanting and failing to be productive, I’m removed from everyday activities and basically at peace with that. I’ve been forced to stand still and move minimally within a small orbit—in other words, I’ve been forced to simply be.

Making peace with the fact of simply being does wonders in softening my heart. It makes me feel a surge of both self-love and self-appreciation, which are difficult feelings for me to access most of the time. So does the awareness that none of us are invincible, that our time in this life is finite, and that life is precious.

All things considered, what I feel these days is a sense of tenderness for myself—my decidedly flawed, sometimes crazy-making self—and for everyone else. I’m having no trouble remembering that human beings deserve tenderness and compassion simply for being here. I’m hoping that the bigness of my heart space will outlast this crisis and all of the suffering it creates; that, as I get older, I’ll be able to hang onto tenderness without humbling or adverse life experiences to remind me of how important it is.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.

Recipes

This brothy bowl of beans and greens looks so perfect for springtime!

An awesome bowl of Southern-inspired comfort food by my friend Kathy.

Broccoli rabe is my second favorite green! (Kale is number one, but it’s a close contest.) I can’t wait to try this version with golden raisins and hazelnuts.

I’ve never tried a walnut-based vegan ricotta, but I always trust Hannah’s recipes.

Megan’s fluffy strawberry vanilla scones may be my next baking treat.

Reads

1. I’ve been wondering what my friends’ kids will remember from this time, if anything. Scott Simon has wondered the same, and written a touching op-ed voicing his thoughts.

2. I loved this article on cool/fun/creative things New Yorkers are doing on their rooftops right now. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of my neighbors passing time on their balconies, with activities ranging from playing instruments to tai chi to outdoor dining by candlelight. It’s wonderful.

3. Kelly Barron shares thoughts on finding opportunities for insight or growth in seclusion.

4. Taste has created a little ode to cooking projects and created a roundup of juicy recipes to fit the theme, many of which could be veganized. I love cooking projects, even when they’re time consuming and end in something resembling a “failure,” because they teach me so much. And having the time to undertake more of them than usual has been a light in all of this.

5. I was really interested to see a series of images from the New York Times showing how Ramadan has been observed differently—more at home, less in Mosques or with gatherings—around the world this year.

Wishing you a restful day. More simple, comforting food is on the way this week!

xo

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    3 Comments
  1. Gena,

    I sure do enjoy your insights each week. Thank you! I wanted to tell you that the last paragraph really resonated with me. I can say that as I have gotten older my ability to have compassion in a broader range of situations and at different times has only gotten stronger. I think more than anything it is age and experience (in addition to the more immediate things such as a crisis) that help us to be open to tenderness, compassion, and understanding. Keep nurturing it in yourself, look for it as often as you can, and go easy on yourself if you don’t get it right the first time. It’s always there to draw on.

    Take care and have a good week. Thank you again.
    Libby

  2. Truly an honor, as always, to get your seal of approval. I do hope you get to try the walnut ricotta; it’s pretty special for being made of such simple stuff. <3

  3. Dear Gena, can I just say I was enchanted by the image of neighbors in your area having candlelight dinners on the balcony. So tender and intimate and in a way inviting us all in. Thanks for this lovely piece on tenderness to self. Love you

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