Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Of Cabbages and Kings

 

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings..."
                                                 from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carrol

I went this Monday to my aunt and uncle's house to bring them some soup, and I came back with a cabbage mold. This is what happens when I try to be nice to my family. My uncle especially is a giving man and generous, and though he likes a party, he does not like to be the center of attention.You see, my uncle is very sick, and though we are co-conspiring ways to include him in the coming holidays, even if he can't travel, there is of late this urgency, this darkness about the edges that we're trying to ignore: there isn't much time.

Who knows how long anyone has? If we were all smart, we'd listen to the sage advise to live like today was your last. Not in a destructive, devil-may-care sense, but in a life-is-beautiful and loved-ones-are-life kind of way.

The awkward, awful blessing of sickness and lives cut short is that it provides all who gather 'round with a little perspective. And so I went to say hi the other day and give some love in a jar of soup. And because my uncle is the way he is, I came home with the cabbage mold.

He is nonchalant about the whole thing and practical: he must go through his things. So after a short visit he led me to a folding table he had set up in the middle of the garage. It had an odd array of newish and vintage household beauties. It was a like a history of my uncle in ceramic and glass form (more appropriate than you know). I don't know if the things I saw were his and not my aunt's--maybe they are both purging--but nevertheless, the lot of it together told his story somehow. There was a box of Vaseline glass pitchers, a few cobalt blue goblets, a red and gold lamp-ish thing I only left because I felt guilty liking too many things,  and there in the middle of it all there was the cabbage.



I'll admit it kind of looked hilarious in the middle of that table. A cabbage! What is this cabbage doing here? I had just read an article not two days before about green glaze and the advent of Josiah Wedgwood's earthenware company--how he started this food-shaped ceramics craze that has surged off and on for over two hundred years. His use of glazes instead of the hand-painting that otherwise predominated was a little revolutionary, and though the initial popularity was brief, the trend keeps coming back around.

I hadn't really thought seriously about the serving ware until I stood there in front of the folding table. Then all this history went rushing before me, and the line of Lewis Carrol's poem too came bobbing out of nowhere with all its fantasy and whim. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to serve some edible delight out of a cabbage mold? Wouldn't it match so well, I thought, to have this strange greeny-yellow-pinkish presence in the middle of my other colored odds and ends?

Perhaps these are inappropriate things to think about when you're uncle is dying, when he is finding homes for his very things, when life teeters on tragedy, and some of us are so heartbroken we either pretend ourselves whole and normal again or let the pieces fly everywhichway unable to contain the mess. Perhaps I should not have been delighted, surprised, and thrilled.

Or, perhaps, the subject of cabbages (and kings) is a good response. Life whittled down to essentials is life at love and play. Love is people. Love is letting go of worry and striving and grasping and instead bounding full-bodied into the good life left. Play is not pretending but make-believing, it is wonderment and serious fooling around no holds barred. It is about this pause--a time to talk of many things... 







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