Otherwise and the Sacred Ordinary – April 2017 column

“It might have been otherwise” is a line from a poem that reminds me how important it is to appreciate the ordinary. What a miracle it is that we are able to walk and talk and think, much less see and hear. When Jane Kenyon wrote those words she doubtless felt their truth. She died of leukemia shortly after writing “Otherwise.” She was 47.

The idea that our time is limited can cause us to look at the world differently. Even songs on the radio encourage us to live like we were dying.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor. When I left on an icy January morning for surgery I looked back at my living room and realized that the next time I saw it I would either be celebrating a new lease on life or preparing for the end of my life.

It’s not that we don’t all know our time is limited, but we can push it aside until we are forced to face it. I was forced. People ask how it changed my perception of the world. In all honesty, I’ve always had a sense that time is limited. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because I was born so late in my parents’ lives.

I was very fortunate. Although one doctor had told me, “The radiology looks bad. It looks very bad,” I got the news that people pray for three weeks later. On a Tuesday evening a surgeon  delivered the most beautiful word, “benign,” during a brief phone call. I’m sure he had said it thousands of times. It was the only time I’ve heard it in relation to me, and few things have ever brought such relief.

The ordinary may be a goodnight ritual, a stop at the neighborhood coffee shop or a favorite pen in hand. These are simple things, but they are the moments that make up a life. Few things are more precious than time with a loved one, and yet as the play “Our Town” reminds us, we don’t even take time to look at each other.

I’m challenging you this month to really look at someone. Really see them. And appreciate some ordinary life because as the poem says, “But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.”

As summer approaches you’ll no doubt have chances to gather with family and friends. This is a great accompaniment to any meal and requires no actual cooking.

Cole Slaw like Grandma Made

Cole slaw is one of those things that varies depending on the cook. I like it creamy with a touch of sweetness. If you prefer more tartness you can lower the sugar amount.

I confess I usually buy the bagged cole slaw ready for dressing, but if I’m chopping up my own mix, I keep it pretty simple.

Cabbage, chopped (about a pound – about half a head)
1 carrot, diced

1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together and pour over cabbage and carrot mixture. Mix well. Letting it sit for about an hour in the fridge will meld the flavors. But it will get watery if you let it sit too long. I sometimes make the dressing and stash it in the fridge then I just mix up the amount of cole slaw I want at any given moment.

You can add onions, radishes or celery to your mix if you want, and adjust the sugar to make this more or less tart. Some like to add in a dash of cayenne pepper or even some horseradish for a little kick. I like my coleslaw sweet and creamy so I keep it simple.