SHAPING EACH OTHER'S LIVES
Humans, as social creatures living in community, shape the lives of those around them. I know that in principle I've influenced the lives of people around me, loved ones and strangers alike. But it's hard to see that influence, and it's a rare event when any one of these people has actually confirmed or described to me the impressions I've made on them. If they've done so, it's usually been under unusual circumstances or in a moment of emotional fervor. I view these confirmations of human impact on other lives as a sort of footprint, proving that we have passed this way and have left certain recognizable signs in our wake.
Just this weekend, my young neighbor friend Gracie, who's almost nine, unwittingly showed me one of my footprints. SJG and I had invited Gracie, her mother and father, Gay and Peter, and her little sister, Bronte, to our house for a rib feast to celebrate Gay's birthday. We prepared the ribs the two-day way, marinating them overnight in spices, grilling them briefly the next afternoon, and finishing them in a two-hour steam bath in the oven. To please Gracie and Bronte's palate, we also made our favorite macaroni and cheese recipe; cole slaw rounded out the meal. We left the choice of dessert to Gay, and she opted for chocolate mousse. I made the mousse well in advance, to give it time to chill and set in individual glasses, with plans to serve each glass with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
After we'd finished the main meal, I called Gracie into the kitchen. "I need your help with the whipped cream for the mousse," I told her conspiratorially. She raced into the kitchen after me, and I handed her an old-fashioned set of beaters, the kind that you turn by hand. They fit neatly into a cylindrical ceramic container and work perfectly to beat small amounts of whipping cream and egg whites.
Gracie looked puzzled. "What are we going to do with these?" she asked.
"We'll beat the whipping cream with them and put a little spoonful on top of each person's mousse," I explained as I pointed to the small glasses of mousse in the refrigerator.
"Oh," Gracie replied. "I thought we were going to squirt the cream out of a can!"
"Nope," I replied. "We're doing the real thing." I poured the whipping cream into the ceramic container, placed the beaters on top, and told Gracie to start turning. "You can switch hands if you get tired," I explained.
Gracie dutifully began to crank the beaters, and within seconds wondered if her work was done. I showed her how to lift the beaters to check the consistency of the cream, and she went back to her work, checking frequently and switching hands as her eight-year-old arms tired. In due time, she exclaimed, "I think it must be done. It's getting really hard to turn this thing."
And indeed the cream was ready to spoon onto the mousse, after which Gracie sprinkled each one with chocolate shavings. She carefully placed the glasses of mousse onto a serving tray, carried it with great delicacy into the dining room, and placed it before her mother. "Mom, I beat the cream!" she cried with girlish pride. In a flash, I saw my footprint, saw through Gracie's excitement and pride that I had offered her a way to use her human powers to transform something ordinary into loveliness.