With their families in tow, all of my children were home for Christmas 2016.

There were eleven of us in total sharing yelling matches, giggling, littlest ones racing around the tables to get away from a chaser, or taunt someone into chasing them and putting away more food over the course of six days than one may seem imaginable. My children not only bring their children home but their appetites as well. And happy about that, I am!

With the making and devouring of roasts, vegetables, desserts, and beverages, comes lots of dishes. I don’t have a mechanical dishwasher. I have never wanted one. Scrubbing away at those tiny microcosms is satisfying. Of course, there is a tipping point when I feel the need to accept help and that’s okay, too.  I never know what conversation may come my way. Sometimes the conversation is about how hard it is to clean; questioning mom’s sanity, because she likes washing dishes; news events; or memories. Sometimes the best times are marked only by the sound of water running and the clicking of cupboard doors as glasses, dishes, and silverware are rightly restored to their resting places.

It was in the silence of washing dishes alone one afternoon this past week, I remembered my mother’s words. “Dirty dishes are a sign you are blessed”. When you’re a teenager, you think of other signs you’d rather have, but age has a way of seeing clarity in wisdom handed down from generation to generation. Clearly, our family is blessed. The soon-to-be-washed dishes are seemingly endless and littered with all sorts of evidence. In the mix of dirty dish blessings are the ones that are unspoken. Nearly three years ago I was struck with a sudden, life-altering health crisis which left me with few options of food I could eat. It hasn’t stopped me from cooking, sharing, and writing about food. There is in the sharing a strength I get which is hard to describe. I think it comes from the fact that sharing food is a selfless act. When you take away the ability to eat, the blessing enlarges to one that is more closely centered on the moment of sharing, rather than the food itself.

I know there are many who wonder at the twists and turns my mind takes to draw out a conclusion, but these thoughts of feeling blessed that there is sufficiency for all under my roof, made me think of who else besides me feels blessed, even when they are surrounded by the food they can’t eat. I thought of cancer patients, because I know they often experience this. I later decided to google “cancer food”. There were numerous links to how I should eat to beat the odds of getting cancer. Spices, plants, and herbs were popular. Meat, not so much. There was eventually a listing for some specific diets to follow should I have cancer. I haven’t had cancer, but I have taken care of those who have. I have generally found they loosely follow a specific diet, peppering it with food that overall appeals to them. Perhaps, a bit of intuition comes into play. Or perhaps, they are obstinate. It may be as simple as choosing to add ginger, or as complicated as choosing to eat at all. I know the feeling of wanting so much to eat something that I know will cause me pain, but after benefit analysis, I decide the pain is worth having that craving satisfied and feel normal. Later, I will wash my dish and still think that moment of a tasty morsel was totally worth the agony. I understand that while I may not be cured, I am alive, and in that thought lies the hope of continued opportunities for breathing.

People who haven’t faced platters of food they can’t eat, won’t fully relate to this post. I know this because while my family and friends have been enormously supportive of my predicament, I have felt the empathy and sympathy, and seen the vacant looks when noting I still continue to work with food and partake in food-centered festivities. This is for those like me who cannot eat as they wish, but embrace this challenge. We are unafraid of being afraid and have an enormous ability to take risks. We understand small successes, even if they aren’t our own. We are the ones for whom “Dirty dishes are a sign you are blessed” takes on new meaning.