Yesterday a box landed at my door, and my 8-year-old tore it open to help me dig out two lovely loaves of authentic German bread and a letter as tastefully poetic as the bread itself.
We travel the world in search of connection and relationship, and we find it if we are open to it. Last fall, I flew to Omaha on invitation to present about my bread book. There, I found a warm, welcoming community of people I was so glad to have crossed paths with. I am still figuring out another time to go back and revel in the beauty of Omaha.
The beauty came from the community and camaraderie, more than anything. The pride of their home. The connection among them. The way the Jewish community in particular comes together toward the benefit of all rather than infighting like you might find in some larger locales.
Omaha is a place like that.
I first met Mark Kirchhoff on the phone a few months before my trip. He kindly and patiently tracked me down for a few quotes in an article he was to write about my speaking engagement, to attract a crowd.
I say patiently because as I was caught up in a flurry of parenting, business management, client work and other minutiae, I probably seemed scattered and unavailable. But we did talk and he wrote a lovely piece that made me proud to be.
And so I arrived in Omaha, gracious and excited, and when I met him, I marveled at his quiet glow, his brilliant smile. What a kind soul!
If you read this blog regularly, then you know how magnificent my trip to Omaha was. How life-changing and eye-opening. How special.
Well, relationships with good people aren’t fly-by-night. They don’t start and stop abruptly. They begin and you never know their destination or their duration.
So half a year later, Mark emailed me asking for my address. I have something to send you, he said, and I gave it to him, curious, touched.
Today, the package arrived. Two big loaves of lovely bread made by hand.
But the most artistic and nourishing part of the package was Mark’s letter. Let me quote directly:
Here’s something for you to (hopefully) enjoy. In appreciation of your joyous explorations of the breads associated with various cultures, I am doing my part to ensure that you have not skipped deutches Brott in the process.
He went on to tell me about his German language teacher, Sabine Strong, whose classes he has taken since 2005. And he continued:
I take great delight in cooking, but typically fail miserably at baking. I think that is because I find baking recipes too restrictive of my creative instincts int he kitchen. The fact that exact measurements and ratios are critical components to baking success is a fingernail on the blackboard of the kitchen slate for me.
Um, poetic? Oh my goodness! What a lovely writer. What a beautiful few sentences. Although the whole thing was strikingly from the heart.
I write letters with one person – my Irish friend Catherine, who lives in London and surely enjoys the ease of technology, but still insists on hand-writing lovely script-filled letters. As our children have grown, our letters have lagged so now we send two or three a year. But they arrive like hugs in the mail and I smile and sit down immediately to read every time.
That’s how I felt when I received Mark’s letter.
The letter tells me more about Sabine and her personality, her style. In the final paragraph, Mark urges me not to freeze the loaves as he already has frozen them once, so they are for our enjoyment now.
Furnish your own wine, cheese, and friends, and enjoy them. I’ve been known to cut a moderately thick slice, spread one side lightly with peanut butter and crisp up the other side in a pan with olive oil. And keep smiling. You’ve got a great smile.
While I certainly love the ease and quickness of technology, there is nothing that can replace the art and soul of a written letter, mailed with painstaking care across the country in a package of handmade bread.
Mark’s was typed, like my father used to do when we went to camp – we couldn’t read Dad’s handwriting, so he typed our letters and scrawled a fierce but loving Dad across the bottom of the page.
Catherine writes by hand, filling the white space of a card’s insides, plus its back, with her careful lilting penmanship.
Recently, my phone rang with a Florida area code. It was my great-aunt Annette, a character if ever you met one, and we realized it had been some years since we last spoke. She didn’t even know about Dan.
We talked for a half hour when I was supposed to be putting the kids to bed, and I wanted urgently to book plane tickets to take my children to meet my last 83-year-old connection to my late grandfather. She asked for pictures of my blended, growing family, and I remembered all the many (dozens and dozens) photo albums she has lovingly compiled over the years, first in New York apartments, and now in her Florida condo.
The connections we make with others are what keep us alive.
The blood running through our veins is nourished by the love we share with others. A quick smile, a careful hello, the thought and heart that go into compiling a package to send to another just because.
Nothing else matters. Really.
This is the meaning of life – the connections, the heart, the depth, the taking time to stop and look in the eyes of another or hear the smoke-cut laughter in a familiar voice.