baked chocolate donuts with chocolate glaze (topped with crushed cookies, toasted almonds + coconut)
For the last six years, I have been volunteering at a home for women and children where I teach an elective cooking class. I started the year my beautiful Nikolas was born and I'm not sure what prompted it specifically. All I know is that this opportunity entered my life at the perfect time. At a time when I really needed it. And I've never stopped needing it. I can say with absolute certainty, it has changed me in ways I can’t really describe. It has brought me so much peace and clarity and fulfillment, that I often wonder how I ever existed without it.
One of the most important lessons I've learned is that, the world is much bigger than my living room. It's a place where bad things happen to good people. A place where sometimes, even the noblest individuals find themselves in terrible situations and for reasons that are far beyond their control, they aren’t able to get out. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in a community that fosters growth and understanding and courage through wonderful organizations like this one. One that teaches life skills and provides access to healthy living. The opprtunitues for personal growth are tremendous.
I am so fortunate to be a part of it all.
A couple of years ago, I overheard a young mother mention that she didn’t have any pictures her new baby and before I knew it, other mothers chimed in with similar sentiments. Most of them didn't have a single photograph of themselves with their children. No baby smiles. No beautiful parental snuggles. No photos of children with sudsy, shampooed hair or chocolaty fingers. No silly faces or drippy popsicle chins or hot summer lemonade stands.
Not even one.
And it made me think about how different my life would be if I didn't have photos to look back and reflect on. I wondered if perhaps on some level, having those keepsakes made me a better person because the evidence of true happiness was always at my fingertips. It's easy to forget the little things that happen every day without the love notes and homemade cards and beautiful photographs. I thought about all the candid photos I had of my children doing every day things. The simple, ordinary day -to -day rituals that validated our existence. That confirmed who we really were at the very core. And sometimes, those reminders are all we have in the end aren’t they? Proof that we were happy even when we were sleep deprived and sick and even when our house was in shambles. These photos pave the way to authenticity. A simplified reflection of a life with meaning. A life worth living and breathing and loving.
I often find myself outlining the silhouette of a photo with the tip of my finger. Of a person I love and miss and really need. I can't imagine not having these pictures as a source of consolation. I just don't think I'd be the same person to be honest.
I kept thinking of those mothers without photos of their babies. Without documented memories. Without validation that love and joy existed for them through the eyes of their own children. I made arrangements to spend an afternoon photographing them and it was the single most rewarding experience of my life. When I saw the way they looked at their children and the way they caressed them. The gentle way they played and the way they smiled at them with admiration, I was overcome with emotion. There was robust laughter and baby squeals and pat-a-cake and picture books. Seeing the way they clenched their hearts and gasped for air after I showed them a few of the photos. Witnessing the heartfelt emotion and deep exhales. I realized at that moment what a gift they had given me.
" This is what love looks like,” I thought to myself. “This is what love really is.”
People often ask me how long I’ll continue volunteering there and the truth is, I don’t know.
It’s become a really integral part of who I am. An extension of me to some degree. A part of my ritual. A really big part of my life.
Week after week, I’m reminded that the world, although harsh and full of conflict, is also really beautiful. Resilient people live here. Determined people. People who make a difference and who want to grow and learn and live a life with meaning.
What it really teaches me week after week is that, we are all the same. Our ability to recognize that our own pain is really no different than the pain of others is so very important. We all laugh and cry and feel sorrow and have dreams. And we always need to remember that without prejudice or boundaries or stereotypes.
Our humanity will always unite us, even when our experiences set us apart.