This morning I baked Christmas cookies. Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies from the 1950’s McCall’s cookbook with a toasted almond in in the center, Dream Bars full of coconut and walnut bits, Norma’s Cookies (who Norma was, we never knew, perhaps a woman who worked for my dad, but her recipe has lived on in our family for decades). I ate some dough; I marveled at the blaze of morning sunlight; I gazed with delight upon a rack of feeding goldfinches.
And then I thought: But what about Aleppo? And that truck, plunging through a crowded German Christmas market? And my friend who fantasizes about suicide? What can these Dream Bars possibly accomplish in such a world? And a secondary but still important question: what kind of person am I to be so perky and dough-covered and cheerful in the midst of it?
Love is not a state but only a direction. Simone Weil said this. We can live in a way that increases the possibility of joy for ourselves and others, or we can add to the burden of suffering that all of us must bear. Look at Norma, after all—that intrepid baker we did not know but will never forget. She doesn’t realize this—even if she is still with us, how could she?—but every year the cookies she invented leave my kitchen on foil-covered paper plates, a small fleet of traveling mercies, a meager but authentic symbol of love, meant to lighten the load of affliction.