Who was she, you ask? Julia Child.
"She didn't know if or when things were going to get better."
I always copy out sentences that I think speak to me directly. You know the ones, they feel like the writer reached out of the book and tapped you on the shoulder, tugged on your elbow, or smacked you across the back of the head with an "I'm talking to you, yeah, YOU” type message.
These comforting lines are from Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savouring Life, in the chapter titled Rule No. 3: Learn to Be Amused, the guideline I adopted for a week and have decided to live with forever, or to infinity and beyond, whichever comes first: I'm no physicist.
I need this rule, big time. In fact, I have always needed it.
I come from a long line of "the wine barrel is half empty" folk. To be clear, I'm not implying that my ancestors had a drinking problem (not all of them, anyway) only that the poverty they endured in Southern Italy had an impact on the psyche that filtered down to future generations. I think this explains why you won’t find a copy of Chicken Cacciatore for the Soul in any bookstore. Self improvement versus survival against the elements? Tough call.
[Sidebar: I once asked my dad if there were any writers in the family before me. He laughed for almost five minutes. He said, "Writers? People were illiterate, they signed documents with an X for their name." Then he repeated my question to his sister and they both howled. In my defence, I have none. I knew his education had been cut short due to hardship so I'm not sure what La-la-land I was living in when I opened my mouth.]
I'm not trying to be glib when I say that it's difficult to remain amused in the face of immense adversity but the potential must exist because I inherited a sense of humour from my father. He's the comedian in the clan. For some members of my family, existence is simply a lengthy trial. (Not guilty is not an option here, ever.) Let's use this example: parting is not sweet sorrow. It’s a guilt-soaked sponge cake of a good-bye. “See you tomorrow” or “see you later” is answered with an enormous sigh (the stethoscope-measured-take-a-deep-breath-and-exhale-a-suspiration-of-the-doomed kind) and, “God willing.”
Sounds simple and full of faith, yet I offer this basic translation for the optimists in the crowd: “I may be dead tomorrow, but why should that ruin this moment? If you really gotta go now, you gotta go now. Tomorrow is another day, though I might not be around to enjoy it. Unless God in his infinite wisdom allows it.” My aunts prefer saying "state attente" instead of ciao (bye) or arrivederci (until we meet again). It means "watch out.”
Me: “Bye, Zia, see you soon.”
Auntie: “God willing. Who can know such things? Watch out.”
An adieu like that can really unnerve a person, if they were inclined to fret, which I am. (See nature versus nurture debate.) I am a world class champion worrier. If worrying was an Olympic sport, I’m fairly certain I could knock out my first-rate immigrant mother and any top-seated Jewish matrons to bring home the gold. Go Team Canada! Except to Sochi in 2014.
Thus I'm embracing this rule. There's no telling where this could lead. Out of the frying pan, into the Osso Buco. Not quite there yet, but my new motto is feel the fear, do it anyway, dry heave in private. That's what I call progress. Plenty of opportunities for amusement are sure to follow. I think JC would approve; I watched the A&E Biography episode about her yesterday to steep myself in more of her philosophy. (Don't do it on an empty stomach.) I like to imagine that if Julia Child was still around she'd have a copy of that ubiquitous motivational poster in her kitchen: Keep Calm and Cook Coq au Vin.