Sunday, June 16, 2019

Comfort - to soothe, console; relief in afflictioin

A few years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite NPR shows, "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross, at noon every day. She was interviewing the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote "The Sympathizer."

Mr. Nguyen described his family's flight from Viet Nam to San Jose, California, when 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, 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 enclosing the swirling blades.

I asked the attendant if the sheep were hot, especially since the outside temperatures were cool. 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."

Hmm, 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 comfort, both human and animals.

Comfort Food

A couple of weeks after my visit to Conner Prairie, I was reading the magazine section of The New York Times.  Turning to page 32, I found this headline, "The Ultimate Comfort Food - when things get tough nerves can be sooth 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 cancelling 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."

What Is 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 bathroom and wear it for a short time.

Sometimes when my heart aches for a heathy home that was not part of my past, I go to Conner Prairie and walk 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 in the pantry - 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 passage of 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 of the above and more. Nature, for example, moves me - we who watch the daily rhythms of nature's changes, find peace and comfort in predictable pattern. When I swim, the regular flow of my arms, legs and breathing cycle brings comfort for the the predictability, familiarity and long-time practice.

May you find comfort whether in familiar smells of your traditional food, through the soft murmur of white noise, in the familiar flavor and texture of whatever "aligot-type" food you like to prepare, in reading scripture, in music and movement. Finding comfort is important - we all need comfort.

For Your Reflection

1. What brings you comfort, food? an activity? a hobby? music? scripture? a favorite book? The possibilities are endless.

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.

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