We lined the jars on the familiar countertop, but first things first: blanching and cutting the tomatoes. It takes some waiting, I discovered, but only after scalding my fingers — too impatient to let the water cool down. When I asked Grandma how she knew how much salt and sugar to add to the jars, she looked at me and said, “I do it that way because that’s what my mama always did.” There is no written recipe, only paying attention.
The mechanical clock, first introduced in Benedictine monasteries to regulate the hours of prayer, was perhaps the true starting point of the industrial age. Timekeeping exchanged the imprecise rhythms of an agrarian world, sunrise and sunset, feeding and milking, planting and harvest, for autonomous, mathematical regularity. It was a boon for business, enabling one to promise and deliver products at an exact time.
But the invention of the clock also had unintended consequences. Time became a currency: trafficked, not received. We make time, save time, spend time, waste time.
Those first weeks of mothering had me in an undead shuffle about the house, eyes heavy, hair sloppily pulled back, last night’s plates still in the sink, sheets in the wash for the third time that week because of my little one’s contributions. I felt totally inadequate, as if nothing I could manage would be enough. The feeling rises as if to drown me at different times for so many reasons, but there is rest in knowing I am not the sum of my accomplishments on a list.
A lost balloon is a simple thing, but it’s a real loss to a child. Then we grow up, and we feel these same kinds of losses every day. A lost relationship. A lost job. A foreclosure on a home. Lost innocence. The loss of addiction. Bankruptcy. A lost reputation. We can try to explain the chemical makeup of the lost balloon to make it appear less meaningful. We can make up a sensible reason for that balloon to have been better off released into the sky. We can try to diminish what the balloon meant to us in the first place. But we cannot cheat sorrow. Loss shapes us. As do the friends that are there with us on the lawn when the balloon string slips out of our hands.
I use it sometimes now, when it’s my turn to bless our food before dinner and I am tired or worried or simply can’t think of anything to say. The familiar rhythm of the words comforts me, carrying with it echoes of the many people who have prayed it before me, and those who still pray it around their tables. It brings me back to those summer days at Mimi and Papaw’s, standing barefoot on the kitchen tile, hand-in-hand with the people I loved the most. Now, as I face my husband across our own dinner table, it sums up everything I want to say:
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.