Let’s assume one thing: you like birthday cake. Okay, we’re together on this one? Right.
How do you eat a piece of birthday cake? You know the kind—the fresh-from-a-bakery, vanilla and buttercream, with a flurry of rainbow sprinkles thrown on every square centimeter of it kind.
If you’re an adultish type of person, then you probably eat it with a fork or a spoon and take big bites and maybe, on a good day, remember to savor it a little bit. That’s the way I do it, and it’s probably the way you do too if you go around living like a usual human in society.
I swear this has a point.
My niece taught me a new way to eat cake when she was just one year old. She, like you and I (and maybe even more than us) loves cake. With her whole being maybe, even, she loves cake. Even though she’s older now, that was just as true when she had only had one trip around the sun. At her party, there was a lovingly-prepared, tiny triple layer cake just for her, and it was absolutely covered in sprinkles. As we lit the singular candle on the cake and brought the sugary, colorful bomb closer, my niece became equal parts confused and excited. After the group singing and fire was gone, she was excited for the cake to be hers, and we were excited for her to do the cute baby thing and either grab two fistfuls of it or, better yet, to simply attempt to eat the thing whole by smushing her face into it.
But that was not her plan.
The cake sat on her highchair tray, ready for it’s not-gentle doom, and we watched with our phones at the ready. The little girl took one long look at the cake in front of her and with her newly developed pincer grasp slowly, one by one, plucked one rainbow sprinkle at a time from the cake and then stuck it in her mouth. And, let me say, she was pumped about it.
If I offered you five sprinkles for your birthday, I’m pretty sure you would be pissed.
A lot of good things have been taken away in this time of global pandemic, and I do not want to minimize or invalidate that. Please grieve. Please cry. Please don’t feel bad about yourself because I took away your cake and just left you with five sprinkles and think I’m asking you to buck up, because I am not. I am not asking you to be that one Zesty Guy from friends.
What I am asking for is for all of us to try to hold two things to be true at once.
We can hold grief in one hand and hold gratitude in the other: the load is surprisingly lighter to have both along for the ride.
Gratitude has become a dead word since it became a common and trendy one, but it doesn’t need to be. I’m not going to tell you to write down three things you’re grateful for everyday (..at least, not yet). I am going to tell you to think of gratitude as counting up from zero while you grieve the things lost. I am wondering in my own newly rearranged life how to encounter the good things that remain or emerged as gifts, despite the destruction that may also be ongoing.
Here’s where the cake comes in: gratitude is picking sprinkles off one by one from the whole cake and finding each one absolutely delightful, regardless of what other parts of the cake may have been dropped on the floor recently.
Take the wisdom of the one year old: small, joyful things deserve to be celebrated, and may become even more life-giving for having been celebrated.
P.S. Speaking of cake, if you want to laugh so hard you cry around a story about cake, please see this.