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April 14, 2020

The Blessings of Bread

Fostering Community

My daughter, having spread her wings and moved out on her own, is back home again, electing to self-isolate with more space, a fully stocked fridge, and the benefit of our school’s beautiful and open campus. (I guess living in a castle beats the 8-by-10-foot bedroom in her Toronto apartment.) My husband and I are happy to have her back and we’ve all quickly settled into family routines that haven’t been in place for many years now. I confess that it feels comforting.

Olivia is a baker. Baking has long been an outlet for her creativity and abundant energy. (Did I mention she was an active child?)  With more time on her hands and willing “consumers” at the table, she’s trying out new recipes and expanding her repertoire of delectable delights. This weekend we enjoyed festive Easter cupcakes, peanut butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and homemade crumpets, the last item being an experiment that turned out remarkably well. This afternoon, she produced her first-ever loaf of bread, a rustic creation that was as beautiful as it was delicious. (I joked with Olivia that the 19 in COVID-19 is soon going to represent the weight I’ll gain if my exercise doesn’t increase in direct proportion to her baking output.)

Apparently baking bread during this time of a global pandemic is a thing. Twitter is filled with #breadbaking posts and finding yeast in the grocery store is akin to finding gold (or toilet paper). Perhaps it’s as simple as people having more time on their hands to bake or maybe there’s something more to this quaint culinary trend. Bread is a staple – a food both basic in its ingredients and comforting in its simplicity. We talk of breaking bread together as an act of hospitality and friendship, and for some, there is deep spiritual meaning in the bread of life. Whatever the reason, people the world over are baking bread.

I wonder if baking is a way for us to take control when the world feels suddenly and frighteningly disordered. Only a few weeks ago it seems, we were focused on lofty goals of self-actualization. Now we find ourselves sliding down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, clinging desperately to love and belonging as we bravely fend off the fear and anxiety that looms beneath us. Baking, with its precision and promise, confronts the uncertainty and reminds us that a simple labour of love can bring order to chaos, if only for a brief moment.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will bring and even the best scientific modelling falls victim to the unpredictability of human behaviour. (Stay home, people. Seriously!) Those with lots of time on their hands and an inclination to ponder the future caution that there’s no going back to a pre-pandemic life. Some things, they say, will be forever changed. I suspect that will be true to a certain extent just as it was undoubtedly true for those who lived through other significant moments in world history.

I wonder if one of the things that will change for the better, however, is a strengthening of social connections that not that long ago appeared to be fraying at the edges as our pre-pandemic pace of life urged us to move faster, work harder and compete for “likes” on social media. Within the solitude of social isolation, many of us find ourselves using technology in new ways by connecting with friends we haven’t seen in ages. Weekly video conferences and phone calls with family, including aunts, uncles and cousins we would normally see only at weddings and funerals, remind us just how much human connection feeds our soul. Jigsaw puzzles (almost as hard to find online right now as toilet paper), board games, books, old movies and family photo albums fill our time and appear in stark contrast to the busyness of our pre-pandemic priorities – priorities that for some now look arguably unbalanced and misguided.

There is much that I miss right now as we wait out the storm in the shelter of our home but I admit to taking comfort in knowing that we are nurturing relationships from afar. These relationships are food for our souls –  the blessed bread that we break together even though at a distance. I hope that when we emerge from this time we will remember the things that truly nourished us. I hope we can preserve and honour them in our new way of collective being, and in so doing, give meaning and purpose to what we are going through together in this time in history.

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