It all started with crusty bruschetta. The tomatoes made you want to you cry. Salice Salentino–I remember the wine, splashed into immaculately polished glasses, the tender pea vines curling around the polenta, and the first bite of that herb-encrusted chicken–crisp skin, an astounding depth of flavor.
Some years ago, our family endured a series of traumas that stretched over a couple of years–great, unexpected losses that left us with our fists up in front of our faces, waiting for the next calamity. We felt jumpy, tense with dread, defensive and alert.
The meal took hours, and we never wanted it to end. The owner, an older Italian man with a face mapped in happy wrinkles, kept appearing at our elbows to tip more wine into our glasses. Thank you, we’d say, and he’d answer, “Simple gestures.” Finally he brought us glasses of smoky bourbon. On the house. Simple gestures.
When my best friend went into labor after that litany of personal tragedies, I braced myself for more bad news. I had learned that life was not the easy walk I had expected; I had learned that good was not always reciprocated. Waiting for joy, we were met with sorrow.
So, after a difficult labor, when my friend brought forth a healthy girl–my first goddaughter–I was completely stunned. Goodness. Unexpected grace that shook me awake. I sat down in humble silence and wrote a blessing for my goddaughter.
may all that is good find you in this world,
just as you have found us tonight.
This hour you unfolded our anxious hands
and we spread them in joy
as a bird spreads her wings. . . .
My husband, Martin, and I have since adopted the Italian restaurant owner’s motto. It takes us back to that summer night of amazing food and friendship. Martin bakes scones and we sit outside with our teapot. He pours tea into my cup. Thank you, I say. Simple gestures, he answers.
Let me tell you: life is not one long, delightful meal, and it doesn’t always give you free bourbon. But it is filled with simple gestures that I so often take for granted: the light slanting down on my daughter’s face as she sleeps, the sound of the piano as my husband plays, these quiet moments of writing on my front porch surrounded by flowers.
What Martin and I discovered as we looked back over those hard things that happened to us, was that even–or especially–then, our lives were overflowing with simple, profound love. As we put our heads down and trod through the storm, Grace was at our side. As we sat down at the table of our bitterness, Love was pouring our cups to overflowing. It was, in a miraculous paradox, a feast of wonder.
As well as I can, I live neither in dread or in the naivete of my youth, but from a center of gratitude. And the feast goes on–course after course, one astounding flavor after another.