As we stay home to stay safe, many of us have done a lot of baking. That was my plan on Monday afternoon. Banana bread—I follow a good recipe but I just want to say a little cardamom and a little ground ginger give it a deeper, richer flavor. I went to cupboard and pulled out the flour and sugar, each in a clear plastic canister. I looked at the flour and wondered if I had enough. So holding the canister slightly above eye level I gave it a good shake and soon the left side of me was covered in the half wheat half white combo that I like so much and a large mound of it had settled at my feet.
I’m confident I would have won $10,000 from America’s Funniest Home Videos if anyone had been around to record the moment. But I wasn’t laughing just then. As I stood there I felt tears in my eyes, I felt tension in my chest, I felt heat throughout my body. My first thought was a curse word. My second was a question. Who failed to close the canister lid tightly? Alone in the house there was no one to yell at or to help me clean up the mess. That was a good thing because it gave me time to stand still. And that was a good thing because I needed to figure out how to move without making the mess worse and because I wasn’t just feeling the rise of anger within me, I was watching it and being curious about it. This is not an argument against anger. It has an important role to play in our lives. But in this situation, although I felt it, I also wondered what purpose it could serve.
A lot of different thoughts went through my mind as I watched myself reacting. I thought about how much I wanted the unclosed lid to be my partner’s fault. I wanted to blame someone other than me. And I thought about being a kid. My siblings and I had one mantra: Don’t tell mom. Because no one ever wanted to be to blame for whatever inappropriate thing was going on. I noticed that I felt defeated—now I didn’t have enough flour to make banana bread (and judging by the amount on the floor, and on me, there had been plenty). But going to store is no longer and easy proposition and once I get there, flour isn’t always available. I felt wasteful and careless—two cardinal sins in my family. Observing all the tentacles of my reaction to this trivial mistake, I realized that the feeling of defeat was the one most likely to linger. This is a habit of mind that is absolutely central for me. Suddenly I saw myself giving up on the afternoon. Throwing myself into a chair, cursing and grumbling, overwhelmed by that familiar feeling that I can’t do anything right.
I saw it. I recognized it. I didn’t stuff it down. I didn’t berate myself for its existence and as I watched it, its hold on me started to loosen. I cleaned up the mess. I left the banana bread project for another day. I saw that I could be happy despite not being perfect and so I was. Not as happy as I might have been with a fresh loaf of homemade banana bread but enough to not poison the atmosphere of my mind and my home.