It’s easy to avoid doing something which causes pain. I don’t mean physical pain, rather emotional pain related to the loss of someone you love. For the past four years I have avoided doing something which I thought would cause me immense pain. I have wanted to do it but thoughts of her involvement in the process have kept me silent. It was only when a bridal shower for a beautiful young cousin approached that I decided to put out into the deep, risking my heart with memories of a person whom I miss deeply each day. This pandemic has stolen precious time and dreams from many people and I felt called to bring back a bit of simple joy from days gone by.
Family traditions are a curious thing. They run the range of ridiculous to simply wonderful. Some folks can’t live without them while others wish they would quietly go away like a rainy night sky. I suppose this is true in my own family where Irish meets Italian – and then for our children, meets German. We like our food, drink and lively dinner table conversations. In between all of this are many fabulous family traditions. When an important member of the family goes home to God, it is up to the next generation to carry on the coveted family traditions, lest they get lost forever.
The smells emanating from our childhood kitchen were always incredible. Mom was a talented cook who dabbled in all things Italian. She learned classics from her dad like Sunday sauce with meatballs and spaghetti with chi chi beans. She was also a great baker. She had been handed down a special cookie recipe from her old Italian aunts – and she was masterful at making these sweet delights. She would bake the coveted Italian Cookies for all family gatherings – weddings, showers, birthdays, reunions and holidays. Everyone loved mom’s Italian Cookies decorated with a gooey sweet glaze and topped with colorful sprinkles. This was her calling card. No one was better at making these tasty morsels of goodness which brought a smile to your face and warm love into your heart.
It probably comes as no surprise that I was reluctant to put out into the deep when it came to mom’s Italian Cookies. For those unfamiliar with this phrase from Luke 5:4-6, Saint Pope John Paul II used it at the beginning of his pontificate (and often thereafter) – “Duc In Altum, Put out into the Deep. At the time of the millennium, PJPII was encouraging folks to move away from security and seek God in the unknown. He wanted the faithful to approach this new time in our lives with hope and unconditional trust in the endless love of Christ.
“When he had finished speaking to the crowd Jesus got into Simon Peter’s boat and said to him, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ When Simon and his friends had done so they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”(Luke 5:4-6).
I have always loved Jesus’ encouraging words in this scripture passage. I also appreciate PJPII’s commitment to use this encouragement to combat our human fears, anxieties and lack of overall trust in life. Needless to say, last week, I endeavored to make the cookies for the first time in my life. As I took the precious recipe out of my drawer, I stared lovingly at my dear mother’s signature left-handed script. I looked closely at all the little stains on the card caused by years of making these cookies for people she loved. I smiled when I turned the card over and noticed no measurements for the glaze. “She didn’t need them,” I chuckled. Then, in a panic, I called her best friend to ask about the glaze measurements and together, we enjoyed a long conversation about how mom had used these cookies to bring countless people together. As I mixed and stirred the dough I thought only of mom – her deep brown eyes, her warm smile and her gentle spirit.
I finished the cookies with pride, decorating them as only mom would have desired. Onward to the bridal shower “I thought,” with hopes that they would taste as good as they looked. Much to my surprise, I received stellar feedback from family members who were delighted to see that the Italian cookies had made a comeback. “Moist, sweet and delicious,” were some of the comments I was pleased to hear. The risk was worth it. Put out into the Deep.
Thinking about the joy of being with my beautiful extended family last weekend, while carrying on a beloved tradition made my heart soar. Mom would have loved to attend her special niece’s bridal shower but in a way, she did. Carrying on a tradition that meant so much to her has kept her alive – in spirit. As the cookies were passed around to mask clad women in dresses, mom’s name was shared by all in loving remembrance. Sometimes we all have to Put out into the Deep – no matter our circumstances – the reward is far greater than the risk.