As I write these words, we are weeks into the most unprecedented time in human history. I think we can all agree, we’ve never experienced anything so collectively before. Out of this, we have heard discussions about the “New Normal” that we are entering. I’d like to touch on this, as I’ve been thinking a lot of what I’d like that to look like. While these times have brought immense challenges and tragedy for many, I am hopeful that out of these challenges, we will emerge more connected, more inspired, and full of love than ever before.
In contemplating the world, I want to live in, I decided to look at it through the lens of one of my happiest memories. I wonder if it might help you do the same as you carve out your path moving forward during this time. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share that memory with you here.
Before I dive in though, I should give you a little backstory. I have a particular love for my grandfather Malcolm. I’ve written about him before.
A Global Family
My grandfather, Malcolm, was a commercial pilot for TWA. He would drive from Gill, MA, down to NYC to fly out of Idlewild airport, now JFK. He traveled the world and was particularly fond of Indian food, which he often ate in many of London’s famous curry joints. He was a big guy at 6′ 3″ and I loved listening to him tell stories of flying. When I was little, I could tell you every type of cloud in the sky because of him.
As the daughter of a pilot, my mom got to travel frequently. She and I used to look at a globe, and she would point and tell me stories of places she had been. I would listen on the edge of my seat and paint the scenes in my head. From early on, I was instilled with a love of the world, a love of travel, a love of food, and a love of people.
My grandfather and grandmother, Malcolm and Agnes Conway
It was 2007. I was a second-year student at the New England Culinary Institute. I needed to fill an internship requirement and found a gig on Craigslist at an Inn, in Portugal’s Algarve region. I wrote the owner and jumped at the opportunity. If you’ve traveled abroad, you can relate to that feeling of anticipation in what you are about to discover, the places you’ll see, the people you’ll meet, the meals you’ll share. If you’ve gone to work abroad as a cook, your anticipation is on steroids, at least it always has been for me. Those months abroad were filled with the same things that life always contains; everything that creates the human experience, follows you everywhere you go after all. I look back fondly on that time in Burgau, which culminated in one of the most amazing moments in my life.
Sharing and Community in Burgau
It was late August and, in the village, Burgau, there was a ritual heading to the beach under the last full moon of the summer. If I am remembering it well,this was done throughout the area. We hit the beach and built bonfires where we sat around singing, drinking wine, and roasting sardines. I can still taste the sardines from that night when I close my eyes. Before midnight the village prepared for a countdown to midnight and yelled it out loud. At midnight everyone ran in unison into the ocean, many holding hands. The tide was low, and you could run for what seemed like the distance of a football field. At some point I stopped, looked down and realized I could see my toes through a few feet of water illuminated by the moon. Then I looked up at the moon, and then at my friends, and fellow villagers around me. I’ll never forget that feeling pulsing through me. I felt as alive as I ever have. I felt completely present, full of love of life and this world.
A beach in Burgau
In looking back at that moment, I realize so many of the key components of life were there. There was nature, there was amazing food, there was music, there was water, fire, cooking, and the earth in contact with our bare feet. There was also connection, both with each other, and with the world in which we live. We shared, with reverence to the individual experience too.
Most of us can look back on a moment like this, or an epoch in our lives where we felt so at peace, and at ease with the world. I imagine so many of us are craving that feeling right now. I imagine so many of us are feeling wanderlust for a new adventure or a new shared experience. More of us are craving the familiar hug, the familiar handshake, or kisses, or bow with a stranger.
The New Normal
I find myself longing for an old normal that for some years now has felt all too distant. I’m thinking of dinner parties with family and friends, of inviting neighbors and new acquaintances over for coffee or tea. I’m thinking of camping and hiking up mountains. I’m thinking of going to concerts, something I always did in my youth and somehow have let go of for far too long. This experience has lit a fire in me to live life with much more awareness, for all we ever have is the present.
I refuse to let go of that little kid, that was always so in awe of this amazing world. We have a lot of work to do to make this world better for ALL of us. I would love for us to carry the spirit of what I felt that night, under a full moon in that little Portuguese fishing village, one of truly feeling alive. I’m painting a clearer picture of how I’d love to see the world evolve. Central in that picture is a huge table, surrounded by people of all walks of life. The food on the table is grown with care, with the utmost respect for the health of the environment and us. The people at the table are present with each other. They listen intently and without judgment. It’s the most normal thing to dine in other people’s homes. We are more open and accepting of each other than ever before. We are present. We are aligned. We are one.
I think Plates can be the catalyst to create this world that I’m envisioning.
I’d like to ask you, what’s your version of my midnight beach story? And, looking back on that story, are there lessons that you’d like to apply to life moving forward? I’d like to think this exercise can be cathartic for us and I think it would be beautiful for us to share these stories with each other. Please let me know in the comments below. I want to believe that this moment was life’s way of giving us a chance to pause, to re-set, to reflect, and to then act and move forward with more grace than before.
Me, outside Adega Restaurant
*Aran is the Chief Chef Advocate for Plates. You can learn more about him through his website, noahstable.co