Months ago, before my surgery, we had dinner at an Asian restaurant with a Chinese friend, M.
She ordered us a dish — a dish, she said, that she makes at home.
“I can always tell how good a restaurant is by the quality of this dish”, she said.
When the dish arrived it was white and opaque and long and lovely and sour and spicy.
It was shredded potato.
From that day on I have craved this dish. Two weeks passed and before I was admitted to the hospital I had to have this dish again. I went back, twice.
Then, of course the total hip replacement. The darkness. The loss of strength, of hope. The bone saw. (Read The Bone Saw Here)
While laying on the couch in an opiate-induced stupor I dreamed of the shredded potato.
What was the magic of this dish?
A simple shredded potato prepared with chilis and oil and vinegar and peppers. So pure in its form and surprising in its taste.
In the weeks that passed, as I moved from walker to — walker. From couch to actual bed. From one flight of stairs per day to the courage of doing more than one flight. From opiates to other opiates to other anti-infiammatories and other pain meds to finally pain meds only occasionally. Weeks and weeks and weeks.
Moving finally from walker to cane and then, finally without, I continued to crave the shredded potato dish.
Finally a bit more mobile, we went back to the restaurant with friends. I tried to describe the dish. The server shook her head. She had never heard of such a thing and I was of no use. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t have the thing that I had really wanted.
In some ways I thought that after what I had been through I was, in a way, entitled to have that dish I craved.
Pain, indeed creates all sorts of feelings of entitlement. For so many. In so many ways.
We texted M. She sent the chinese characters for the dish but not in time for that night’s dinner.
So I went back again. With R this time. Using my phone to show the server which shredded potato dish I wanted. She smiled, nodded and perhaps in her eyes I could see how weird she thought it was that the non-Asian needed to show her the Chinese for what she wanted — on a screen.
Alas and finally, the dish arrived. It tasted like life, to me. Just like life.
Like life, it was spicy and a little sour. Cut into long bits, cooked lightly and served up with a little color. And oh so craveable.
I cannot get enough of it. Of the dish. Of life. Of the unnameable.
That thing I want that is unnameable. For one young man I know, it is a life partner. For another the unnameable thing is employment.
For another they crave the return of their loved one — their husband, wife, dearest friend — recently deceased. Or not so recently.
Folks want diamonds, fame, social media presence, followers and likes.
They want to live in a country where their lives are not constantly in danger.
They want stability and sanity.
They want a roof over their heads. Sometimes a family. Sometimes a family of friends.
I want to live.
Yesterday, on the sparkling day of entitlement — or of joy — or of pain, from wherever you hold, I went to that place — the place of the shredded potato.
I asked for the dish. I showed the server the chinese characters. She nodded her head.
When it arrived…it was a bit different than usual. Truth is, it is always made a bit different than the time before. Again, like life — like my life, anyway…never quite what I expect.
Now confession time: I wasn’t sure I would recover from the darkness. It took too long. It took too much time to get strong again. My biggest confession: I couldn’t see my way forward. I was shredded, like the potato. Somewhat literally, in fact. I had been cut and shredded and somehow had to regenerate. As new.
Like a caterpillar in its chrysalis, I had melted inside and had to regrow into something else.
Then vulnerable and weak…like an emerging changling, I had to dry my wings in the sun.
I have slowly had a return to confidence.
I am walking, without assistance. (I am looking at you, snow and ice!)
I am eating the shredded potato.
A reminder of the longness of my bones, the sour, the spicy, the unexpectedness of my life.
I am walking forward. I am. A step at a time.
Not quickly, sometimes not surely.