On Sunday, February 3, I was enjoying a Texas winter day – 73 degrees and sunny. I was picking up produce from my community sponsored agriculture site, visiting with our friends, including the farmer, eating homemade treats, playing on a slack line.
The very next day, I packed a suitcase at 5:15pm for a 7:18pm flight. My sister was buying my ticket while my husband was driving me to the airport.
My stepfather had fallen in his home near Chicago. My mother found him, called 911, and off to the hospital they went.
He had blood accumulating on his brain. Emergency surgery.
My mother was alone.
My sisters and I sprung into action to make sure that my mother would have someone with her in this frightening time.
Tuesday was spent in the ICU. Lots of sitting. Waiting. Lots of uncertainty.
After my stepfather was given a dose of morphine, my mother and I ran some errands and searched for lunch.
First stop: the Indian grocery store. My mom knows I love Indian food. I didn’t need to buy groceries, but this stop offered both a reprieve from the hospital and a connection for us. Isn’t it a sign of intimacy when you know the food someone likes? Isn’t it a symbol of a close relationship when you prepare food for a loved one, “just the way you like it?”
The Indian grocery store was also a sensory distraction from the dreary hospital. Brightly colored vegetables lined two walls. Freshly prepared warm dishes scented the air. A wall of rice held untold potential.
I found the frozen foods and chose a dish that could be microwaved in the ICU waiting area and we returned to the hospital. My stepfather’s nurse was trying to get him to eat.
Eating food, digesting food, and even the desire for food, are all indicators of health.
Leaving him to argue with his nurse, my mother and I walked to the waiting room so I could heat up my lunch. We walked in and we faced an Indian family. They glanced at my package of food and at each other.
They sent a scout across the room to pretend to wash his hands but in reality he was getting a closer look at the food I was heating up. He returned to his party to report that indeed this white girl was eating Indian food. They smiled at me and gave a knowing nod.
My mother went back to her husband’s room while I waited on my channa masala and idli. Most of the Indian family left. I was left alone in the room with the Indian matriarch.
Her: “You like Indian food?”
Me: “yes. I’m vegetarian. It’s easy to eat at an Indian restaurant. I think dosas are my favorite. There’s a great restaurant near me with amazing dosas.”
Her, making a sour face: “Yes. Sometimes I get them at a restaurant. But I prefer to make them myself.”
“Well, if I lived with you, I would prefer that, too!”
Her, turning more serious: “Who do you have here in the hospital?”
“My stepfather. You?”
“It’s my husband.”
Both our family members had brain surgery the day before.
Both had some problems with drainage.
Me: “How is your husband now?”
“Confused. Maybe he has some dementia. Maybe Alzheimer’s. We don’t know. It’s hard on my kids.”
“Yes. I’m so sorry.”
Her: “Come get some samosas. Vegetarian. A friend brought them, but I am so full. Take them. Warm them up.”
I follow. I take the offering. I offer thanks.
Me: “I hope things go well for you, your husband, and your children.”
“Yes. And your father, too.”
We hug and she disappears behind the curtain of an ICU room. I return to my stepfather’s room to eat, already feeling so satisfied by my food.
Food connects us.
Food can cross the barriers of culture between an American Southerner and a Southern Indian.
Food can cross the barrier of language between my accented, elongated, drawled-out pronunciation of CHAAA-na ma-SAHHH-luh and her staccato, lilting pronunciation of vegetable samosas.
Food can cross the barrier of fear that builds up around each person wondering the halls of the floor of the ICU.
Food is a universal language.
Love is a universal language.
Therefore, we can only conclude that food is love.