Most (perhaps all) experts would advise aspiring writers to “just say no” to exclamation points. They are abused and overused. They make our writing appear amateur. There is seldom a good enough reason to use an exclamation point.
And yet . . . I choose to believe that the story I am writing today deserves an exclamation point. The title of this post may have unleashed sugary visions in your mind, but I’ll tell you here at the beginning that this isn’t really a story about sugar. It’s about bread. And it is exclamation-point worthy.
On Saturday, my almost-five-year-old boy tasted his first doughnut. One taste and his eyes were shining. Like this:
(photo by yours truly)
This boy is allergic to a handful of the most basic ingredients of an American childhood (dairy, wheat, eggs, and peanuts). Thanks to a recent discovery (the phenomenal vegan, gluten-free bakery cookbook Babycakes Covers the Classics) my son tasted a doughnut for the very first time.
Even better, we all tasted them. We all loved them. In fact, the leftovers are calling to me from the freezer drawer right now.
It’s a far cry from our usual breakfast routine. My husband makes dairy-free, wheat-free pancakes and waffles, but they will always taste just a little funny to anyone accustomed to bleached, all-purpose wheat flour. Most days, the boy enjoys his breakfast, while the father begins making something else for everyone else.
Strictly speaking, our family never breaks bread together. We break bread alongside one another. The good loaf for the four of us, the not-quite-right imposter for our oldest son, the middle child.
In our family, we often say ruefully that if we only ate like this boy we would all be so healthy. Some meals, this is true, but, deep down, I have always felt as if my boy’s diet has no heart. Something essential seems missing. I love the smell of yeasty bread baking, and I definitely prefer homemade pizza crust. The bread-like lumps that sit on the shelves at Whole Foods, heavy with ingredients like tapioca and bamboo (I am not kidding), strike me cold.
My son rarely complains. Some of those lumps, he actually likes. Only occasionally, does he seem to mind. “Isn’t there any bread for me?” he might ask as his sister dunks a baguette in her soup, and I try to pacify him with a few rice crackers.
In my head, I know that my son doesn’t need bread. His body seems to be growing pretty well without it. In my heart, I’m not so sure. What I want to give him, what I long to give him, is the thing I gave him on Saturday. Bread made with my own hands to nourish him: body and soul. Factory-made bamboo substitutes need not apply. They cannot do the job.
I am about to make a leap here (from nutrition to religion), but, honestly, I don’t believe it’s that much of a leap. I love symbols and metaphors, but this is more real than those. Our pastor reminded us this weekend that the Hebrew word for bread is also used to speak of God’s presence. And that is what I hunger for. That is what I want to give my son.
Depending on our culture, we might discover it in a corn tortilla or a yeasty baguette, but I know it’s available for all of us, whether we are breaking bread at home or in a church. It’s Life. Body, heart, mind, and soul. All of it.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Maybe when he spoke these words they were only a metaphor. However, when Jesus walked all the way through death and out into life, his words became much more than that. And if we’re wondering what to do, how exactly to access this life without hunger and thirst, the answer, I think, is so much less complicated and exclusionary than we often make it: Eat! And after, maybe a simple thank-you.
“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.”