Sustainability in Liminal Spaces

“The martini felt cool and clean… I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized. I had had too much red wine, bread, cheese, bad coffee, and grappa. I sat on the high stool before the pleasant mahogany, the brass, and the mirrors and did not think at all.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
~ Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

My grandmother Olga survived the 1918 Spanish Flu and lived to be 98 years old. Every time I was sick as a child, she would remind me that she survived the Spanish Flu by eating garlic and drinking Brandy. She would insist on preparing food for me with plenty of garlic to ward of whatever it was that was making me not feel well. 

My memories of her and her resilience are entwined with meals, food, drinking, dancing and laughter. Perhaps, it is these things that can sustain us during a season of pandemic, whether we are with friends and family staying home together or more isolated and with other people virtually in some way. 

Shared meals bring people together even if mediated by Facetime, Facebook or Zoom. Seeing each other eating food and drinking we are reminded of something shared as humans – solidarity in the human experience around a table. Food unites. An open table for intimates and the stranger – no one is an outsider, there is no other. We create a space for shared experience and a place for stories and belonging. My grandmother modeled these values for me. By her living through the Spanish Flu, The Great Depression and World War II, she embodied sustainability and was able to laugh and dance and celebrate life.

Another story from World War II come from Franklin D. Roosevelt and his implication of a mandatory happy hour at the White House during the war as means to relax and maintain some form of normalcy during a crisis.  “One of the primary ways in which FDR dealt with the stress of his responsibilities was to convene each day in his second floor study in the White House a gathering of friends and associates that he called ‘The Children’s Hour’”(  FDR – The Children’s Hour).  

Jerry Anderson continues, “It was a time FDR set aside to meet informally with his political family and friends. He had begun this tradition during his years as Governor of New York and had institutionalized it during his years in the White House.” Anderson describes the “Children’s Hour” this way:

“…no talk of politics, Depression or war was allowed. Jokes, gossip, and funny stories and anecdotes from the day were the topics of conversation. FDR would tell his own tales while engaging in one of his favorite pastimes, that of mixing drinks for all of his guests. He would sit in his wheelchair next to a table filled with the alcoholic beverages necessary to make any kind of drink for his visitors. Martinis seemed to be the preferred drink. As people would filter into the second-floor study, they would approach the President, say “hello,” and the President would ask them what they would like to drink. The guest made a request and the President made the drink and gave it to him or her. As the “Children’s Hour” went on the atmosphere became loose, loud and full of gaiety. As he mixed drinks for his guests, he would increase their strength if he wanted to create a more relaxed and uninhibited atmosphere.” 

We find ourselves in unique and trying times, feeling anxious and living in liminal spaces. I believe we can learn lessons from my grandmother and FDR on how to sustain our humanity by laughter and by finding some levity in the midst of serious times. By sharing a meal and a martini, whether at home, with family or on a screen with friends, we can find solace from isolation and fear.

A secret for you…
This world…
Is a blessing and a curse
You will know both
Beauty and horror
It is okay…
To know both and all that is in-between is to be alive
Grace will dance with you
So, walk…
Walk on…
Hold dear all you love
Embrace the mystery
All you touch will become sacred
Experience all of life you can bear
Inhale it all
Savor the aroma of the sublime

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