We were in Iceland for the last two weeks of May. It was the fastest I have ever fallen in love with a place. From the moment my lungs first filled with Iceland’s sea air that smelled like the earth and tasted better than anything I have ever eaten, I knew I was in love. We were explorers. We found glaciers, sea birds, volcanoes, seals, and so many waterfalls that at a certain point we no longer pointed them out to each other. We took waterfalls for granted. Iceland focuses your attention on our earth. It is hard to think about anything else. It is so big, and makes you feel so small. You are confronted with a land that didn’t have to endure humans until very recently. I thought a lot about death, but not in a morbid way. I mostly wondered why the earth isn’t enough. Why do we have to imagine heaven when it is enough for me to know that I will dissolve into a rock, a tree, an arctic tern. I am forever. I thought a lot about entering the earth, communing—sliding into the crevasse of a glacier, burrowing into ash, letting moss grow over me. Iceland does this to you, if you are doing it right. Even in Reykjavik, metropolis of 120,000 people, spring water falls from the faucet in your smartly designed hotel room. The puffin still appears. The lamb you saw grazing on a hill is served on a plate and tastes of the land you explored. It is easy to access the pleasures of Earth in Iceland. It was all we had to do.
We flew back home after Memorial Day weekend to news that everyone in Chicago had been shot. At least it felt that way, though we all know that it isn’t white people being shot in Chicago. Chicago, my troubled homeland, felt like a particularly difficult place to be. We sat in traffic. We read depressing political news. The streets smelled like garbage and car exhaust. I struggled to drink the water coming out of our tap because now it just tastes like chlorine. Bryan and I were short with each other and easily frustrated. It was an acute version of the post-vacation blues, but also something more.
On Sunday a lot of people were murdered in a nightclub by one of our fellow citizens. He murdered people because they were gay or danced with gay people. In the aftermath of the shooting I have watched politicians, who have spent their entire careers trying to destroy gay people, relieved to turn the conversation to Islamic extremism to avoid having to express false sorrow. I’ve wondered about all of the prayers being directed at the victims. Churches are often the first community to reject us for our sexual preference. Families were supposed to be in our thoughts, another group that often turns us out. I wonder how many victims were outed to their families as a result of this tragedy? How many parents received the news of their child’s death after years of estrangement? I also wondered about my own safety and the safety of my husband and friends. These are morbid thoughts.
I’ve thought a lot about hate, too. I’ve lost track of what we are all talking about when we use the word. I wish language was more precise. Hating injustice is different than hating gay people. It’s not all bad. I get confused because some people call their hate “religion” or “patriotism”.
Of course I know that Iceland isn’t really a utopia, it has its own set of problems. But as a visitor it was for a couple of weeks. I didn’t worry about much and tried to just feel and exist and enjoy. I called my best friend halfway through the trip and she said it sounded like a spiritual journey, I don’t know about that but it was something. It reminded me that we don’t have to accept the things we don’t like. There actually are better ways. We can create a new world. It also reminded me of the privilege I have in my life. It is almost unfathomable my privilege in the context of our world. I do not have the right to be as complacent as I sometimes am. It is unforgivable.
Some of you like to remind me that this is supposed to be a food blog. You’d prefer I “stick to food”. I have no patience for that line of thinking. And besides, when did I ever? I don’t think we deserve an escape. Your privilege in being able to read food blogs needs to come with the price of not forgetting. I provide occasional reminders.
Our kitchens are, in many ways, the most vital and important space for political discourse. We learn at the kitchen table, we argue, we affirm, we try to figure things out. We imagine the world we want and start creating it in our homes. We have a better chance of convincing someone who sits down to dinner. There is a lot of work to do. There are children to educate and friends to inspire. The revolution starts at the kitchen table, not in the voting booth. The future holds the possibility of freedom, the past does not. There is no Again.
Iceland is fading for me. It is already getting hard to recall how I felt there. I want to return, but more than that I want to help create a world from which nobody needs an escape—where we don’t need to be waiting for vacation, or a revolution, or heaven. The next few months are important for our country. We need to act. We will win.