I’ve always been suspicious of electric stoves.
They take so long to heat anything up. And then, once the burner’s hot, it’s hot. There’s no going back.
Case in point: Just now, I forgot I was boiling water for tea – that’s how long ago I turned the burner on. Once I heard the pot’s whistle, alerting me to my neglected task, I turned the burner off and wandered away to find a mug and honey – only to hear that shrill whistle continue because the burner was still just as hot even with the power off.
“You have to move the pot,” my wife said, monotone, not even looking up from her own work. “It’ll just keeping singing otherwise.”
I miss my gas stove. There was an illusion of control, watching the flames around the burner rise and fall with a simple turn of the wrist. I was in complete command over the fate of my omelets.
“Your grandmother cooked with an electric stove for nearly 90 years,” my mom said, a gentle reminder to counter my complaining. “Think of all those meals in that tiny kitchen.”
I hadn’t realized that, to be honest. I hadn’t realized that all those Thanksgiving and Christmas meals – more food than the table could hold – had been summoned forth with a burner just as slow and fickle as mine. Food crafted with love, attention and patience. I can picture her standing there at the stove, her hair just right, an apron over her sweater, pots crowding every inch of spare space.
The broccoli would be overcooked – or so she claimed – but no one could make it quite like her.
“Well, if she could do it…” I said. “All those years…”
This is a week in which we remember the dead, those who have gone before, the saints, the sinners, the regular souls just like us who have now stepped deeper into the mystery of God. We look to them for intercessions, for insight and wisdom, to be examples to us as we muddle through our daily lives. We wonder how they encountered God, managed life’s great struggles, deepened their own faith in that which they could not see, taste or touch.
That’s all well and good; that’s how it should be. The great holy women and men who march ahead of us in the communion of saints serve as worthy examples, sources of inspiration.
But it’s tempting, too, to hold these folks apart, to lionize their achievements, to forget that these are people just like us, bumbling through the nitty-gritty of living. We look to them to inspire our choices for good, but we also look to them as sources of comfort, that we’re in this together, the good, bad and indifferent.
My grandmother was a devout woman of faith – and the Infant of Prague statue that sits in my bedroom is a reminder of that, of her prayer life and her trust in God, a devotion she held dear.
But my grandmother, too, was a practical woman, a real person who spent hours in front of a stove that she had limited control over. Somehow, she mastered it, found joy in it, joy that she spread in heaping spoonfuls. God was there, too, in a wonderfully ordinary way.
There is a communion to be found at my stove, a lesson.
A few nights ago, I left the broccoli steaming longer than I should have. It just took so long to start boiling and then all of a sudden was so cooked.
I dished it out to my girls all the same, fair weather broccoli fans at best. And would you know? They ate it, loved it. I tasted it myself. “This is just how my grandmother used to make it,” I told them, surprised and delighted. It was a taste from the past – simple, yet extraordinary.
Perhaps today, this week, this month, you might take a moment to reach back through time and space to a person who was significant to you. Someone who might provide an insight into life’s daily wonders, something simple, yet extraordinary.
Eric A. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day and IgnatianSpirituality.com. His fiction has been published by Dark Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Follow Eric’s writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.