Here I am elbow-deep in dirty dishwater, all sweaty-pitted and smelling of eau de Cream of Mushroom Soup. I'm scrubbing the last, stubborn bits of tuna casserole off the glass baking dish and feeling very blah. There's something blah and outdated and unsophisticated about tuna casserole, too. It's not glamourous. One doesn't fantasize about serving tuna casserole from paper plates lined up on the kitchen counter, no matching china anywhere to be found. I catch a glimpse of myself in the kitchen window above my sink and note the gray hairs growing in around my temples. Gray hair and wrinkles. Also not glamorous. Also blah.
But tuna casseroles feed the hungry masses--and with minimal whining at that. Tuna casserole is good enough and maybe that's exactly what I need right now.
I find myself bled out and exhausted these days. I think writing the book did it to me. I wrote three complete drafts. I'm about to begin final edits but for the last two weeks I've been limping around, all burned out and glassy-eyed, comforting myself with baked goods, Cookie Butter and House of Cards on Netflix.
I've gained five pounds.
I've gone to bed at 7:30pm each night and slept for 10 hours straight.
I do not recommend writing books. Or, at least, not memoirs about religion. As Dave Barry once wrote, "The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people and then they come after you with machetes."
Sometimes I wake up in a blind panic convinced everyone will hate, hate, hate my book. Or, maybe--which would be worse--they'll read and be all: meh. whatevs. Apathy gives me nightmares.
So, I've been worrying and then comforting myself with casseroles. The only problem with this coping mechanism is that my oven, much like myself, is also Emotionally Unstable. My oven doesn't LIKE being set at 350° thankyouverymuch, and it will simply TURN OFF unless I set it at 365° but preferably at 375°. And even then it makes no guarantees. Because hot-flashes, apparently?
I've been known to stand watch over my oven, talking to it, coaxing it to please not shut off, to please bake my unpretentious, unsophisticated tuna casserole. I make listening noises, mirror my oven's emotional state and when I lose patience, I snap my oven with a dish-towel.
Here's a truth I've realized as I've fretted over my oven: it doesn't matter whether I write a bestselling book. Or cook gourmet meals. Or have a flock of perfectly reared children. Inside me, deep down, there is a lurching loneliness which can't be filled up with careers, babies or fancy meals cooked on designer Viking ranges.
I stand over my oven and I realize that I must, at some point, acknowledge the emptiness. I must feel it. I serve slopping spoonfuls of tuna casserole, I wash the dishes and I feel my emptiness.
I've heard preachers say we're born with a God-shaped hole in our souls and nothing can fill it except (you guessed it) God. I find that trite if only because when I sit quietly with myself, this emptiness feels far greater. There are chasms, caverns, entire Grand Canyons of echoing emptiness inside me.
Nothing, nothing, nothing fills it.
I am learning to sit with this discomfort. I am learning to pray. I am learning to accept the things I cannot change and asking for the courage to change the things I can.
And when I pray, I I feel myself coming unstuck, loosening a bit. There are moments. Glimpses of being filled up, like during Mass when the cantor sings the responsorial Psalm. Or when my children fall silent, eagerly spooning tuna casserole into their hungry mouths. God is here, I think.
God in the outdated and ordinary and unglamorous. God turning my loneliness into solitude. God in the common comfort of tuna casseroles.