Linda and Joy come every week to Free Food Harlem, usually midway through dinner service. A mother and her adult daughter. I say hello, ask them about how their week has been, sit and talk for a bit. Joy’s face always lights up, her name perfectly describing the emotion she evokes in others. Linda’s eyes look tired but deep, you can tell she’s seen the world through them.
This week when they commented on how delicious the meal was, I told them the cornbread was homemade. As well as the BBQ sauce for the chicken. Linda’s eyes teared up. That’s how food should be, she said. She told me about food she used to cook. I sat with them a while longer, soaking in the tenderness and appreciation they had for the meal, and their softness and reception eating it.
A little later, Joy asked for more cornbread. We were out of the delicious fluffy soft cornbread we had been serving, and only had reject cornbread left. One that had been cooked without baking soda and was flat and dense, I felt embarrassed serving it. I handed it to her on a plate, apologetically, and told her not to judge me, even though I hadn’t made it.
“Judge you, for CORNBREAD??” She stared at me incredulously. As if that was the last thing she would ever think to do in the world. Here I was every week organizing and cooking a meal, wanting it so badly to be absolutely perfect. Thinking that anything less wouldn’t be ok. I would judge me for the cornbread. But this woman would never think to do that. She was almost upset that I would even suggest it. “You sit with us, you talk to us, you take the time and you think I’m gonna judge you for cornbread?”
I teared up and smiled at her. Her face was brimming with love. “If no one told you today that they love you, I love you.” The same words my mentor had shared years back, part of the inspiration for starting Love to Table. This feeling of wanting to give out even one drop of love. What a god shot. Here was a woman, so receptive to my love, she didn’t need a perfect meal in order to feel it and receive it. It had me think how often, in trying to get it all right and make everything perfect, I actually block the love. The places where I give out stress and panic because something isn’t how I want it, instead of remembering it’s always just for that drop. The food is the vehicle, but the true thing we’re serving is the love. The cornbread could be flat or burnt or maybe we run out, but I can always still access the love. Nothing is more important.
In that moment something shifted inside me. Joy’s words cracked me open. Her beautiful smile and her heart brimming over. I told her the cornbread was missing an ingredient but it was made with love, and she said that was all that mattered.