I had a pity party a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t invite anyone because ugh, pity parties are the worst, right? But while I do tend to be a bit of a cloudy pessimist rather than a sunny optimist the one thing I do have going for me is that eventually my own hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing get a bit ridiculous even to me. I am grateful for the (sometimes self-mocking) no-nonsense turnaround when I finally realize I’ve tied myself too tightly to the Train Tracks of Melodrama.
In a much-needed bit of good timing, my mother (hi, Mama!) shared a good old German saying which is, “Kruemel sind auch Brot,” which means, “breadcrumbs are still bread.” That slowed the approaching Train of Despondency long enough for me to have a think about things, and since then I have been trying to take that saying to heart. On the one hand, I absolutely despise it when people say, “there’s always someone worse off than you,” because if that’s the case (and it is), then it is equally true that there’s always someone better off than you, too. Both sayings sort of cancel each other out, and in a practical sense comparisons do no good at all. Even so, it’s difficult to refrain from making them sometimes – especially during the more difficult days.
Our cozy world in this little corner of the Scottish Highlands is, I am fully aware, a whole lot better than that of a large part of the worldwide population especially when I take into consideration all the hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, political upheaval and other disasters that continually occur, worldwide. We have shelter, food, clean water, electricity, clean air, decent healthcare, kilts, bagpipes, beautiful scenery, and Highland cows, here. We can lock our doors at night with the reasonable expectation that no one will kick them in and do us harm. We have laughter. We have love. We have each other. I know, truly, that we are blessed in many and myriad ways.
Chronic illness changes life in a way that no one can really fathom, unless they are living it. Ill health takes away freedom, spontaneity, planning with follow-through, and activity. It never lets go; even if you manage a somewhat “normal” day it’s there, waiting to remind you of its presence when exhaustion or frustration set in, or worse, when there is another setback or decline. From the patient’s perspective it must be a grinding, painful, intrusive, often frightening and ever-present burden, robbing life of so much. From the standpoint of a loving caregiver, it means constant anxiety and long periods of worry punctuated by too many moments of pure fear. I can never fully understand how my husband feels about it; as the carer, I am but a bystander, though I try to be a supportive one. But it has to be said that my moments of darkness or sadness don’t do either of us any good. So I definitely needed to hear that saying, “breadcrumbs are still bread.” Trying to change my mindset, while challenging, is necessary.
Not long ago Sem said, “We do have fun, don’t we – and all in all we have a good life.” He was right. In spite of it all, we laugh an awful lot in our little flat in the far north, and our love never wanes. Sem finds pleasure in so many things, and I should take more cues from him. A familiar and much-loved refrain which I hear often from my love is, “Despite everything I am the happiest I have ever been.” He means it, and I am so glad. I’m happy too in a way I never was – and never thought I could be – before Sem and I found each other.
I thought about it a lot during my most recent pity party and I decided that if our life is to be occasionally somewhat comparable to breadcrumbs rather than the whole loaf, then I should make sure they are the tastiest, best, crunchiest of breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs seem to be a hot item these days; I made devilled green beans using panko mixed with melted butter last week and it was delicious. Panko and spices turned potentially bland baked chicken breasts into a crispy, spicy delight the other night. Seasoning breadcrumbs sure goes a long way! I have a friend (hi, Paula!) whose mother (hi, Carol!) used to make Ranch croutons that were so good you’d want to chuck the salad and eat the croutons on their own. Maybe she still makes them – I hope so. Those humble bits of bread were elevated to tasty crunchy bites of heaven, in her kitchen.
If you will indulge me in stretching this metaphor a little bit farther, I was just struck by the notion that there are a lot of delicious cakes for which cookie crumbs are used as a base. Key lime pie and cheesecake, two of my all-time favorite desserts, use crushed-up cookies to support the rest of the tasty goodness. The best part of my mother’s ‘Apfel Streusel Kuchen’ is the topping – “crumbs” which are made simply of butter, sugar and flour, mixed together and crumbled across the cake (streusel = crumble). When my sister and I were little my mother would always be sure to “miss” a few times as she scattered the topping, letting small pieces fall as if by accident onto the countertop next to the baking dish. “Oops,” she would say, “dropped some more!” Little hands were quick to grab the sweetcrunchybuttery mixture which melted deliciously in our happy mouths. I used to wish that just once she would forget the base and the apples and make one glorious cake entirely out of that top layer instead! Now isn’t that a thought, for how I can view the “breadcrumb” life?
So crumbs, then, of the bread or cookie or cake variety, are things that add flavor, texture and crunch to the things we enjoy. If I don’t have the whole loaf (or the whole cookie), is it really so bad? I have decided that no, it is not. In reality I think there are very few people who get to have the whole loaf; we all have our struggles and difficulties, our unfulfilled dreams and wishes that won’t come true, and that, I suppose, is just life.
What I need to remember is to focus on the many wonderful things that give our life taste, joy and that little bit of crunch. Fortunately, most of the time I really am able to do that, which is good because it’s no fun going around as Deb the Disgruntled – for me, or for Sem. But when I have my occasional wobbles, I think my path forward is clear. I shall think of spicy, crispy croutons or my favorite pies. The crumb, be it ever so humble, is also something for which I can – and should – be thankful!