My husband and I just moved into our first house a couple of months ago. The place exists at a prime location as we can walk to our parish, we can stroll in the neighborhoods and we can appreciate the families who have just recently moved in as well as the older crowd who have taken care of their properties for decades. Most have expressed an affection for the area and intention of staying since life has been good to them here, near the center of the city.
As one of the youngest families on the block, we’ve come to be pleased about how the house has aged since the 1940s, the friendliness of the community, and the capacity of the place which allows us to grow in it. Even still, there has been the often heard of “project list” with different foreseeable phases. One of the more pressing projects to complete is the kitchen. Because of how often I prepare meals, because of how we make meals with our friends, and because of how often we would like to invite family to eat with us, we thought it reasonable to expand the storage space and to find a configuration which allows for more counters to accommodate for chopping, mixing, staging, and serving.
It has taken weeks to look at the different options for the approximate 8’x8’ space. It has been amazing to find how the limits of the space allow for us to inspect how we will use each inch. For each cabinet, for each drawer, for each shelf there has been a discussion of functionality and versatility.
Thanks to the care our parents have taken in educating us to the true value of money as well as work and prayer, we can not just ask once or twice what the meaning of the finished product has or all the steps we take in order to reach the point of a place with a face and a name. To tear out the soffit, to choose a granite or quartz or a laminate countertop, to take and retake measurements for the cabinets, to be sure the appliances actually fit into the boxes set aside for them, all has to do with our happiness.
Sure, the time and attention given to spinach risotto on the stove, the hours of simmering ragu in our biggest pot, the marinating pork chops and barbequing chicken and frying summer squash, grating parmesan and herb basting all have the potential of sensual gratification. As they say our “nose knows”! And what a gift it can be. Without diminishing all of this, there are great lessons in experiments gone bad and in being made new through offering nourishment in meager and extravagant means. My husband and I can’t help but find incredible joy in inviting others to share life with us. Not often enough, the sharing takes place in the kitchen, one of the most if not the most precious places we know of.
As my husband demolishes and destroys, I see the dust collecting and the fact that the stove and other appliances are out of commission for, well, we will see how long. The shelves have already been emptied and everything edible removed and there is no inviting others in. The same question of what this mess, right now, has to do with our happiness, the happiness that does not end, is increasingly obvious.
Yes, the impatience I have with this question could be exhausting and others hear me and say, in essence, “Can you not wait? Can you not just live for what will happen there when it’s done?” I must say, in all seriousness, that is not good enough and it's not good enough for good reason.
If my husband or I do not live together for something happening now we are fooling ourselves. I get impatient when I can not find what I need or Roland doesn't finish his tasks as I want him to. He can insist on having his time to regroup after a workday and he does when I have forgotten how to best stay with him as he is. We could live for a yesterday or a tomorrow that does not exist, a person who we think exists but does not actually stand before us. We live motivated by something or someone that may never exist.
What really, then, does this making over of the kitchen have to do with my happiness now, my husband’s, my family’s, my friends’ happiness now (because, let’s face it, my happiness is connected to theirs!)?
The project we do now as well as anything we ever do is not simply a making of the thing outside of us, but of being created as we build a place and life shared well within community.
So, we work, we pray, we build… we produce something, but we are more aware of how we are continually being made. We look for more ways to be attentive to all of the factors and measurements at play in what is real, what is right now. For those of us who have entrusted ourselves to an Incarnational, sacramental life, we can ask and even beg to co-create, to pray without ceasing. There is no coincidence that Christ and anyone taking after him paid attention to meals and how they are made ready. Means and ends matter if we see ourselves as the participators and the object changed through all movements.
Before any program or project is proposed in any aspect of communal life (religiously affiliated or not!) may we see what is essential and full of promise, full of the invitation extended to us for our happiness. This sort of following those who have gone before us fills us with wonder at what is accomplished at home and within ourselves.
This may sound a bit far-fetched, but my kitchen can be seen and treated as a waiting room between here and eternity. It is where I am and it is where the Incarnate God chooses to impart meaning to me. Won’t you come in and take a load off? Sit and stay for a moment. See for yourself- my unfinished kitchen is a magnificent sight now, and what a wonderful way to find our happiness gaining ground in the order of the rubble.