Well, I was wrong about the pies. Inspired by a recipe in our 20-year-old copy of the Encyclopedia of Creative Cooking
, Jenny made a savory pumpkin soup, instead. With pumpkins, roasted red pepper, ginger, soy milk and a little butter pureed in a vegetable stock base, it was FANTASTIC – warm & summery and warm & wintery combined.
I heard Isaac Bashevis Singer
speak once, during my college years. I don’t remember what I’d read of his, or why I sought him out, or even what he said that night. I do remember a strong affection – an affinity for him.
The steam in the radiator hissed, singing its one note. The steam seemed to speak in the pipes, consoling Herman: "You are not alone, you are an element of the universe, a child of God, an integral part of Creation. Your suffering is God’s suffering, your yearning His yearning. Everything is right. Let the Truth be revealed to you, and you will be filled with joy."
Suddenly Herman heard a squeak. In the dimness, the mouse had crawled out and looked cautiously around, as if afraid that a cat lurked nearby. Herman held his breath. Holy creature, have no fear. No harm will come to you. He watched her as she approached the saucer of water, took one sip, then a second and a third. Slowly she started gnawing the piece of cheese.
Can there be any greater wonder, Herman thought. Here stands a mouse, a daughter of a mouse, a granddaughter of mice, a product of millions, billions of mice who once lived, suffered, reproduced, and are now gone forever, but have left an heir, apparently the last of her line. Here she stands, nourishing herself with food. What does she think about all day in her hole? She must think about something. She does have a mind, a nervous system. She is just as much a part of God’s creation as the planets, the stars, the distant galaxies.
The mouse suddenly raised her head and stared at Herman with a human look of love and gratitude. Herman imagined that she was saying thank you.
In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. "What do they know – all those scholars, all those philosophers, all the leaders of the world – about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka. And yet man demands compassion from heaven." Herman clapped his hand to his mouth. "I mustn’t live, I mustn’t! I can no longer be a part of it! God in heaven – take me away!"
He is just as close to me as he ever was, only I had forgotten it. His stories are funny and sad, earthy and mystical, and above all humane (his Nobel prize lecture
is also worth reading).
A personal note: My best memories of college are like this exposure to Singer. The best books I read, the best friends I had, my favorite classes – all of it had nothing to do with my chosen field of study (chemistry, if you must know). Whatever you think your life is about, you’re probably wrong, or at best incomplete. Leave yourself open enough to keep looking, or you may never find it.