A Pinch of Salt
When Mr. Z. and I were in Paris last month, our hosts, the Scotts, took us to one of their favorite restaurants, Chez Denise. Even though my own lunch was delicious and satisfying, I openly coveted the os á moelle that the French couple next to us ordered. My companions, veterans of French food and committed to their low-fat diet, declined to order it with me, Mr. Z wasn’t game, and I wasn’t quite ready to commit to eating a plate of roasted beef marrow bones by myself.
When the woman caught me watching her prepare her next bite–scooping marrow out of the bone and spreading it onto grilled bread with a butter knife, then sprinkling it with salt from a bowl with her fingers–she gestured that she would be happy to share. Our friends accepted in French on my behalf, and we watched as she made me a bone marrow toast. I gratefully took the toast from her hand and ate it all. She would have continued to feed me from her plate if I had not been too full already.
I remember that lunch as my favorite meal of the trip not because of the bone marrow’s rich, buttery deliciousness (and its benefits), but because of the unexpected intimacy of taking food from a stranger’s plate and hand.
Where were the rubber gloves, the hand sanitizer, the caution and fear, the reminders of the woman’s otherness and separation and the potential danger of her body? Erased as I accepted her offer and ate her food.
When I think about the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo office and Kosher market last week, and I see the pictures of people holding the “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis Juif” signs and posting under those hashtags on social media, I remember the woman in the restaurant, and her willingness to share and my willingness to take and eat her food, and I think of the ways “Je Suis” the Parisian woman. I feel warm solidarity with the people of the world, standing up and speaking out against violence and fear.
But at the same time that I say to myself, yes, Je Suis Parisians, Je Suis Charlie and Je Suis Juif, I have to acknowledge that (more subtly and without obvious violence–I add disclaimers to be able to bear to write this–see below) I also must say Je Suis the silent, and Je Suis the terrorists, and Je Suis the fearful censors of public speech and private thought, and on and on and on.
I wish I could say or write “Not Afraid” with honest confidence, but I am frequently afraid–of offending, of overstepping, of being factually or morally or (most ridiculously) socially “wrong.” I censor my words and even thoughts every day. I could say that “no one dies” as a result of my desire to censor, but how do I know? What if my failure to speak out about, say, domestic violence, does in fact indirectly lead to someone’s death?
Maybe saying “Je Suis” about each other also requires saying “Je Suis” about the other. Sharing responsibility as well as food, blame as well as credit. Speaking out, using the space created by satirists like the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo (whose work often makes me cringe) to tell the truth of our own lives.