Warm vanilla and sugar. Those comforting scents permeate every room of my home right now, making the entire place smell like a bakery. If I threw some ground coffee into the percolator, the resulting sense memory would take me straight to my grandmother’s kitchen, circa 1977, complete with the memory of a terribly patterned linoleum floor and avocado green appliances. I feel, at these times, that she’s still with me, that I can almost hear her voice as I sift, mix, and stir the ingredients. Cooking, in general, makes me feel more connected to the women in the family who came before me and it is my paternal grandmother to whom I feel the closest in these moments.
Today’s baking session isn’t intended to be a journey through my family history, in spite of the memories it stirs. I’m spending the day in my kitchen doing what I do best – stirring the proverbial pot. Rather than stirring up trouble, I’m baking chocolate chip cookies to give to someone who is in need of sweetening up. While not outright malicious, this individual (let’s call them Riley) does have quite a talent for driving wedges in other people’s relationships. I’ve known Riley long enough to see the pattern of behavior repeat itself and well enough to know that the behavior stems from their own inability to cope with a traumatic event in their past. Riley is not a bad person, but rather, a person behaving badly due to their own insecurities and a very large chip on their shoulder.
There are a hundred ways I could handle this situation. Trying to talk about the behavior with Riley has not helped because they cannot recognize how problematic their actions are. Reflecting Riley’s energy back would be catastrophic since that energy stems from a place of internal suffering and I do not want to cause them additional pain. Severing ties would likewise cause more harm than good.
I will not cause Riley additional hurt, but I also cannot remain passive as they allow their own pain to hurt others. So, into the bowl goes vanilla, butter, sugar, and flour, along with a healthy cup of intention and positive energy directed toward Riley. May Riley sweeten toward others and act in ways that heal rather than harm, may they be filled with compassion and warmth instead of divisiveness and envy, and may the only chips in their lives be chocolate. I repeat these thoughts over and over as if they are a mantra as I mix the ingredients and scoop out ball after ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.
A few homemade cookies are not going to fix what’s broken in Riley, but treating them with kindness and warmth may help them to begin to heal. Cook with love and compassion to feed both stomach and soul – that was a lesson learned from my grandmother in her kitchen all those years ago. It’s only taken me thirty years after her death to realize that, out of all that I’ve inherited from her, this lesson was the greatest and most valuable.