Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Difference Between Home Movies and Home Cooking

Technology is so wonderful, it manages to mess everything up.

The camera allows us to perfectly record events. My wedding of fifteen years ago is on videotape, ready to be relived at a moments notice. My eleven year old twins are still celluloid toddlers, swaddled in diapers and playing on the floor. I have photo records of all sorts of trips and events, including some that I can no longer remember. My life has been preserved in megabytes and videotape.

But all of this photography can be too much of a good thing. People can become so absorbed in taking pictures and movies that they simply forget to experience life itself. Perhaps the photographic class could gain something by occasionally putting their cameras down.

Dana Chidekel, “a memory-card-carrying member” of photographic class, tells about the time she forgot to bring her video camera to her daughter’s recital:

She sang in a high, clear soprano voice that stunned me. I don't recall taking a breath….. At the conclusion, I was crying……… I could have kicked myself for not bringing the video camera, but…not filming was what allowed me to have the unadulterated joy of this experience. Freed from the demand to document what was happening, I could live it.

In the end, home movies are two dimensional. The Zohar says, “God desires the heart”. This is true not only of our relationship with God, but of any interpersonal experience. Real experiences enter the heart; ultimately, memories of our feelings matter more than images or sounds. While a movie may be a slice of life, standing behind the camera can cut you off from reality.

Movies focus on the outwardly dramatic, the moments of intense action. Unlike movies, real life includes trivial, dull moments that matter a great deal.

Some critics get annoyed when I mention food at funerals. “What difference does it make”, they tell me, “if she made good blintzes and honey cake and chicken soup?”. “After all, it’s a funeral, not a dinner!”. I understand the sentiment. Talking about Bubbie’s Friday night menu trivializes the real depths of her love.

But home cooking is one of those trivial things that are so important. Home cooking is not about recipes or menus; it’s about love. Each bite is a symbol of how Bubbie poured her heart into nourishing, caring for, and loving her family.

And this is love you can taste and remember. Elvira Brody tells about returning from her mother’s funeral, and finding some of her mother Nettie’s Easter pizzas in the freezer:

We opened the freezer and looked in, and there they were. My mother's pies. …My husband and I looked at each other in surprise, saying nothing. Then we took out the pies from the icy mist and put each in a plastic bag.

……That Sunday night, gathered with our 15-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter at our dining-room table, I brought in one of the pies, now steaming hot and emitting a savory aroma. I sliced a wedge for each of us, and we ate, scraping our plates for crumbs.
I'd eaten my mother's pies every spring my whole life, and they always tasted good. But now, flavored with grief, the pie somehow tasted better than it ever had. With each bite I recalled with fresh clarity everything Nettie had meant to me over the years, had meant to all of us. How she had raised me without a husband around, all the while toiling as a seamstress, and especially how she had lavished love and attention on her adoring grandchildren.

I'd never in my life felt so grateful to anyone. Through the pies she had expressed her love for family and friends, nourishing body and soul.

In each of those pies was Nettie’s love. In every spoon of chicken soup is an ounce of affection.

The difference between home cooking and home movies is in the heart. A photograph may capture the moment, but a pizza can capture someone’s heart.

And all that matters is the heart.

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