For the last few weeks, I have moved away from sourdough levain to straightforward yeast recipes. However, this weekend, I decided to revive my starter and try out something new: Eric's Favorite Rye (ici: http://tinyurl.com/d4v344).
As usual, my starter bounced back with alarming predictability. By Monday morning, it was active, bubbly, and delightful to smell. I made the rye starter per Eric Hanner's directions, set the bowl on top of the cabinet (the one the cat can't get to...), and left for work, excited about trying out a new recipe that evening.
Around noon, though, I got a call from my mom: my grandfather of 80 was in the CCU at the hospital. He had been having trouble lately, but we all kind of figured he might bounce back.
I don't know about your family, but in mine, we talk circuitously about death. My parents would never say, "you need to come to the hospital if you want to see your grandfather before he dies." They always try to be optimistic, or at least realistic about the facts as they stand at that moment, never ruling anything out. But when you hear phrases like, "they're talking with the nurse about what they want to... do," it becomes clear that "do" does not include "go home and start building model railroad houses again."
What followed was a typical family freak-out session at the ICU. I've been through a few of these in my life, but not as many as some of you. You know the drill: family start filing into the ICU waiting room, where speculation about the patient's health condition runs rampant. What did the doctor say? But the nurse said this... which one is right? Didn't the cardiologist say something different? Grief builds as the topic turns to "what to do." Grandma and Pappaw always said they didn't want to go on a ventilator... but nothing's easy during the critical time. The family becomes like an Ouroboros, a snake eating its tale, but without the symbolism of regeneration and rebirth. We feed on each other's grief. We took turns making frequent trips to his room, two-by-two, where we held his hand as he struggled in a rage induced by oxygen depletion. In an effort to calm him, I asked him about his first car: a chartreuse Ford. I asked him how to set up his old model railroad trains. I told him how we enjoy using his 1960's-era Central Bell rotary phone, which he wanted to throw out in a recent move. This seemed to help.
To make a long story less long, my grandfather did not die that night. He was given morphine and is now resting comfortably in a hospital room. He will never leave that room, and I think we're all OK with that. He may live another day, or several weeks. Either way, it is a blessing to have the extra time.
This afternoon, after too many hours in the hospital and too much drama to emotionally process anything, I realized that my rye starter was still waiting for me. When I got home, I decided to continue with the recipe, despite the fact that the starter was 24 hours too old. I threw in a bit of extra yeast, and indulged in the therapy of the familiar actions of mixing, kneading, and shaping the dough.
Finally, after struggling with the sticky rye and making a complete mess of my kitchen, it was time to bake. The first loaf slid in beautifully, and I had visions of a tangy, perfect deli rye. The second loaf, however, was a disaster. When I slid it in, I miscalculated and let it slide too far. It bumped up against the first loaf, and instantly combined into a giant, doughy blob.
In that moment, all of the fear and frustration of the last two days exploded. I suppose up to that point, I was in emotional denial about the impending death of my grandfather. Anger is the next stage of grief, and I took it out on the dough. I entirely lost my cool, and with a spatula, stabbed into the seam between the two, forcing them apart, making a racket and cursing my situation. In frustration, I slammed the oven door, which caused the dough to slide off the baking stone and into the back of the oven. I was able to retrieve the dough before the oven caught fire, but not without ruining the loaf. In my grief, I somehow equated the dough with my grandfather. It made sense at the time.
At the risk of sounding preachy, I have heard that the Christian idea of resurrection does not only apply to death. They say that every loss in life is like a death, and that the recovery from these losses is like resurrection. In that way, they say that they are prepared for their final resurrection throughout their entire life. It's a nice thought. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but it was comforting to think that the death of this loaf was not the end. I can try again tomorrow, this time with more patience and thoughtfulness. In the same way, the pending loss of my grandfather is not the end, either. I can take my memories of him, my regrets and happiness, and carry them with me. Instead of wishing I had spent more time with him, I can choose to actively be with my grandmother, my aunts and uncles, my neighbors and friends. Life, like bread, is more forgiving than we might expect, and is always filled with second chances.