Thursday, May 31, 2012

Important Dates

My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today. – Rabbit Proverb

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 was an action-packed day off: I had tickets to the King Tut exhibit, I'd planned actual cooking in my home for friends afterwards -- a North African menu, to go with the visit to the Pharaoh’s tomb -- and, ambitiously, had also planned a late movie. 

So, after a trip to the grocery store and tidying up the house, I headed to the museum with my friend and her young son. As we walked over to the Seattle Center, I made mental lists of the prep I'd need to do as soon as we came back, worked out the firing order of each dish, and wondered whether I had enough wine. The mundane details of normal life.

The King Tut exhibit was at once a little bit like a fourth grade field trip (hadn't I seen all this before? In Denver? In the late 70s?), but it was also, at times, absolutely scalp-tightening. I was on the lookout for Curses, the Mummy’s Ghost, and Indiana Jones. The millennia separating the Now from the Then, the weight of all that time, cast the similarities in our cultures, the very human frailties, into stark relief. What will future archaeologists make of us?

Along the way, I sent my snake-infatuated friend a picture of an enormous, hammered-gold neck ornament with a winged cobra motif. “For protection,” I wrote beneath the phone-captured picture and pressed send.    

As we continued through the exhibit I thought about the menu ahead: minted yogurt, roasted cauliflower with currants and pinenuts, another nerve-wracking attempt to produce a decent eggplant dish, this one with tomatoes, parsley, goat cheese, and chickpeas….I thought about regional foods – dates, oranges, pomegranates and fava beans – and the similarities between the food of Pharaohs and the food of slaves. So much of the life of a pharaoh revolved around the preparation for his death. The carved vases for oils and unguents, the hieroglyphic protections, the carved figures that would spring to full size in the afterlife and offer protection (and company) to the god-king. I thought about the Arab Spring and wondered whether peace might be achieved through food. After all, the logical conclusion of any diplomatic process is breaking bread together, right?

I never once thought that the day really was winged-cobra protection worthy.

It was only much later, hours later, when the yogurt-garlic-cumin-coriander slathered chicken was resting after roasting atop olive-studded couscous, only then did I hear the news about the shootings in Seattle.

In writing about this I feel that I am guilty of a certain appropriation of other people's experiences. My friends, family and I weren't involved. People are shot in other parts of the city and, through either under-reportage or my somewhat lazy news-gathering habits, I hear very little about that violence. Beyond creating a certain somberness around the dinner table, yesterday's murders will not affect my life. In that I am inestimably lucky.

Egypt is a mess. Bombs go off in cafes in Baghdad, Syria continues its mad subjugation of its citizens, and Israel and Palestine remain an off-limit topic of conversation. In the time it takes to put milk in your coffee or pop the top of a PBR, everything can change. There may be a scalar difference between the violence wrought by a "mentally ill" cafe patron who targeted hipster musicians, and the tectonic shifts of culture and government on the other side of the planet, but to a victim's family and friends, orders of magnitude are irrelevant: their person is gone. 

So how do we cure the violence of the world? Through peace, love and understanding? Not a bad platform. Through food? A plate of orange segments and stuffed dates seems a hopelessly insignificant gesture in the face of true murderous intent, but maybe it's a start. Perhaps we really begin to move toward a more peaceful world by remembering to remember.

In good time, May 30th will coincide with Memorial Day, a holiday that does not ask us to weigh the worth of a life, but only to remember it. And so I’d like to take a moment to remember the victims and wish them a safe journey through the afterlife. Lest we forget, lest we forget.