Updated: Oct 29, 2018
Last week, I visited New York to see my daughter for the first time in two months since she left home for college. Unfortunately my son happened to break his collarbone the previous week, and the date of his surgery landed right in the middle of my already planned visit to the East Coast. I felt incredibly conflicted about whether to stay or go, and my five hour plane ride was fraught with anxious thoughts. And yet, throughout all of this chaos, as I slowly neared the subway stop at 116th Street, I became filled with a quiet, bubbling, almost giddy excitement. For months I had listened each day over the phone as my daughter spoke about her plans, her struggles, all her excitements, and her moments of sadness. But when I exited that subway station and saw her running towards me, and when she hugged me and I saw tears in her eyes, that was the moment when I truly understood; we stood together in the cold holding on to each other, bathed in feelings neither of us had ever quite felt.
During my three days in the city, Sakura showed me the kitchen where she had baked the apple tarts I wrote about in a post a while back. We decided to make another attempt at using the space. Taking a trip to the nearby Asian supermarket, we gathered our supplies, went back and cooked bibimbap (a Korean dish with rice, meat, and various pickled vegetables on top) together. I wish I could have pickled the vegetables for her and cooked everything from scratch. While the meal was in no way perfect (only having one set of eating utensils, we ended up using tupperware lids as plates), standing together at the small countertop, cooking and gossiping about useless things was strangely the one of the most enjoyable moments with her. Maybe it is because times like these are so limited that they feel so precious.
In Japan, there is an expression that says, “the flavors of home are always the best.” Of course, the bibimbap we cooked was just a collection of spices, grains, and vegetables, but it was special because a specific group of people in a specific place did something with those individual parts and turned them into a whole, a whole that was imbued with familial, intimate love, with casual conversation and deep connection, and with memories of the warmth of home. These are flavors that live on in us, in me, in my daughter even when she is so far from home, in my son who is currently on the mend back in California. My only hope is to continue to provide them when they are in need of that warmth.