Sunday, January 15, 2017
The Sheep Found Comfort
Comfort - to soothe; console; relief in affliction
Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, described on the NPR show "Fresh Air" his family's flight from Viet Nam to San Jose, California. He was in elementary school.
His parents found work in a Vietnamese grocery store. After a year, they opened their own store that contained food items not available in any other place; such as huge sacks of rice, Vietnamese fruit, and fish sauce called nuoc mam - the life-blood of Vietnamese cuisine.
The odor of the food products in the store, especially the scent of rice, fruit and spices, led Viet Nguyen to notice, "There was a kind of mustiness which I assume might have been alien to Americans, but to Vietnamese people it was the smell of comfort."
Sources of Comfort
Comfort ... I heard that word earlier in the week when I was visiting one of my favorite places in Fishers, Conner Prairie, an 1829 village filled with costumed people playing various roles in homes and businesses of that era.
I was in the animal barn, my usual first stop. Two large sheep were resting in front of a fan that was as tall as me - just under five feet. Both rested their heads on the metal guard that enclosed the swirling blades.
I asked the attendant if the sheep were hot, especially since the temperatures were cold on the fall day. She replied, "No, they just like to hear the noise of the fan. It brings them comfort."
"Like white noise that sometimes is used to lull babies and young children to sleep?" I asked.
She smiled, "Yes."
Hmmm, I thought, sheep need comfort too. A few days later, I remembered the NPR feature on the comforting smell of the Vietnamese grocery store and reflected on the many ways we need and seek comfort, both humans and animals.
Seeking comfort can soothe our hears and bring peace. There is comfort in familiarity.
A couple of weeks after my visit to Conner Prairie, I was reading the magazine section of The New York Times. I found this headline: "The Ultimate Comfort Food - when things get tough nerves can be soothed by "aligot" cheesy mashed potatoes."
The author, Tejal Rao, states in the first paragraph:
"In times of great stress or of flickering low-level dread, I find that canceling all my plans and
staying in to make mashed potatoes generally helps. This year there were quite a few
opportunities to do so. Election-related anxiety gnawed at me for months, lighting up old
networks of pain in my shoulders and back. I started a thrilling, but terrifying new job. I
worried about my grandmother, almost 80, living alone. I turn to "aligot" the cheese-thickened
mashed potatoes with roots in central France. "Aligot" doesn't fix anything, but it does put a
little cushion between you and the abyss, whatever form the abyss might take."
Your Go-To Source of Comfort
Many people have "go to" items when comfort is needed. When I miss one of my children, I take one of their robes off the hook in the guest bathroom and wear it for the rest of the evening.
Sometimes when my heart aches for a healthy home that was not part of my upbringing, I go to Conner Prairie and wander through the homesteads, watching the women sew and quilt or cook over a hearth with an open fire. I note stacks of potholders on the hearth or rows of clay jars made on the grounds lined in order on the pantry shelf - they bring comfort to that part of my heart that still craves order. Even if I have to go to a fictional past, I find it helps.
Comfort - how do you find comfort in times of loss or challenging disruptive or chaotic times?
- a favorite mug filled with coffee or tea?
- a scripture that speaks to you and penetrates those chambers of your heart that ache?
- pictures of people who are dear and remind you of good times?
- music or the soothing hum of white noise?
- physical exercise?
I find comfort in all those and more. Nature, for example, moves me - we who watch the daily rhythms of nature's changes find peace and comfort in that predictable pattern. When I swim, the regular flow of my arms, legs and breathing cycle brings comfort with the predictability, familiarity, from the long-time practice.
May you find comfort, whether in familiar smells of your traditional foods, through the soft murmur of white noise, in the flavor of whatever "aligot"-type food you like to prepare, or in music and movement. Yes, find comfort. We all need it.
For Your Reflection:
What brings you comfort; food? an activity? a hobby? music? scripture? a favorite book?
Prayer: God, your love and presence are our immediate comfort as we go through days that have bumps and unexpected turns. Increase our awareness of your proximity, for you can soothe our hearts and restore our balance in you and in ourselves. Amen.