Introductory Note: I participate in a local writer’s collaborative that meets at local libraries. One of the groups I participate in meets weekly and the format is to write uninterrupted for twenty minutes with a prompt (which we’re free to disregard) after which we share what we’ve written with our group. From time to time, I will share the product of these twenty-minute sessions when it seems relevant to the blog’s purpose and if I think it’s worth sharing. I’ll file these under the category “In Twenty Minutes.”
My grandfather was rejected for service in World War II, and so this morning I ate syrup and cheese for breakfast.
Syrup and cheese is more than just what it sounds like.
You pour syrup onto a flat dish or saucer until it covers the indented surface. Whip in soft butter until it has a creamy consistency. Cut slices off of a block of sharp cheddar. Toast bread. Wrap the cheese in the toast. Dip it into the syrup-butter mixture and eat.
It makes my wife nauseous. She can’t be in the room when I eat it.
I inherited this meal from my grandparents. I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, “Are you hungry? You want me to fix you some syrup and cheese?”
My grandfather was rejected for service in the draft of WWII. His formal education ended with the fifth grade and he spent his life working in agriculture. That means that while others were returning from Europe and Japan, utilizing their newly-created GI Bill benefits, and constructing the economic boom and suburban growth of the 1950s and 60s, my grandparents were living at subsistence level off of what could be grown.
The ingredients of syrup and cheese are all readily available on a small farm.
I recently developed a literary relationship with Hannah Arendt — a German-Jewish writer who fled Nazi Germany and made a career out of putting together the puzzles of history.
How did the world we live in arise from the world that was?
Arendt asks these kinds of questions while simultaneously cautioning against latching onto keys or narratives that too neatly, too exactly, explain things as they are.
History is not so simple.
My narrative about how my grandfather’s non-service during WWII led to me — in 2018 — eating an arguably unhealthy breakfast seems plausible enough. It’s a good story. I could develop it. It could turn out to be an essay of publishable quality that reflects on how we draw meaning through applying such narratives to our lives.
But life is not a novel. It’s not just about connecting apparently disconnected events into a coherent whole. That might help us make sense of things, but that’s not always the same thing as teaching us the sense of things.
How did we arrive here? That’s an important question. But a more important one is, “where should we be going now that we are here?”
Of course, knowing where we’ve been is an essential part of the process, but it’s not the key. It cannot tell us how to act now.
I no more ate syrup and cheese this morning because my grandfather was medically unfit for military service than to say that Donald J. Trump is president today because Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki allowing the U.S. president to make fun of a Japanese journalist in a White House press briefing.
Beware easy narratives and their easy answers.