Last month we celebrated Chinese New Year: 2017, the year of the rooster. Needless to say, with my Irish/Italian heritage, it was a first for me. St. Patrick’s Day —sure. Columbus Day—sometimes. But Chinese New Year! Blame it on my affection for Asian cuisine, my lovely daughter-in-law, and a desperate need for color during a hard, dreary winter month.
Chinese recipes are notorious for including a list of esoteric ingredients as long as your arm, and the prep time is e-tern-al: chopping, mixing, and stuffing galore. About half-way through the long afternoon, I wondered whether this was a big mistake, but I kept on chopping, pleased that my grandmother’s grater still produced feathery piles of cabbage.
I was still chopping when David and Joy showed up with their offerings: sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, and wontons ready to be filled, and—oh, glory—to be deep fried in the Fry Baby. The chaos to calm quotient rose by a factor of ten as we criss-crossed each other back and forth from counter to stove to sink and back again. Three small children, batting balloons around in the adjoining living area, crying out in shrill voices, and occasionally arguing, drove the ratio up still further. As we stuffed sausage mixture into wonton wraps, two of the children performed an impromptu symphony on harmonica and ocarina, while the littlest grabbed for the sausage mixture, indignantly protesting as she was hauled off for hand washing. We told her that raw pork could kill her and she subsided. At this point, family number three arrived.
A remarkable ruckus is raised when six little cousins meet. Not one sentence was received intact by adult ears; instead, we heard a flurry of high-pitched, excited phrases as each child, eager to share his news, spoke over the other. The Chinese presence in our family remained calm in the tumult, but those of Italian/Irish descent emitted terse messages such as, “Settle down,” “Go downstairs if you have to run,” Don’t grab his balloon,” and my personal favorite (courtesy of Bob Newhart), “If you do that again, I’ll bury you alive in a box.” We finally finished cooking and filled their plates. Our little ingrates asked if they really had to eat the : fried rice with peas in it (“Peas!”), the steamed dumplings (“Ooh, they look slimy”) or the popcorn chicken (“I don’t like this kind of meat.”). However, there was no griping about the cream cheese wontons.
After dinner, the poisoners of peace migrated upstairs to loll around on Nana’s bed and watch a movie while we adults filled our plates and talked about the day. Some of us had had it rough— the rest could only listen. In the end, we could be thankful for the gift of the present moment, all of us seated around the scratched oak table, each one of us sustained by the living hope we share.
It may be that thankfulness was the best part of this celebration, although the presence of pandemonium — a hot pink thread woven through pale blue cloth— was undeniable. Somehow, in spite of the problems, noises and crazy interruptions, I was thankful. Thankful, of course, for the big things of faith and family. Thankful also for the myriad small things that make up my life: little feet running, dogs playing, chicken frying, clear glasses of pale yellow wine. Grateful for conversation—serious and silly, for old jokes and new ideas, for calls to prayer and words of encouragement. After all, some people say that it is gratitude which opens the gate for joy.
When the stage manager in Our Town gives Emily advice about choosing a time to return to earth, he says, “Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough.”
Celebration through the trivial, the chaotic, the painful? It may be not only the best way to live; but the only way to survive.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100: 4-5)