We were in the wilds of the high weald of southeast England, huddled around a fire pit under gathering clouds and chilling breezes philosophizing on life, when it occurred to us that there are really only two basic needs in life: the need to maintain body temperature/stay warm, and the need for sufficient calories. I would now add to that short list access to clean water, but I think you catch my drift. The jobs and cars and bills and phones and assignments are all superfluous. Of course, we've now created a world where we would struggle to get along without all of that other stuff, but at the very heart of the matter, if you keep yourself from getting hypothermia and maintain sufficient nutrition, you will survive. I will argue that in doing those two simple tasks in good company, actually you will thrive.
I insist on this point because, during a recent two-week vacation to the rolling farmlands of the English countryside, I did very little more than to keep myself warm and fed. And I must say I've never before come off of a holiday feeling so relaxed and healthy. I feel like I am truly thriving.
Sometimes there were just a few of us at dinner, little more than a nuclear family unit, gathered around the long, rustic pine dining table before the warmth of the fireplace in the beamed and timbered kitchen. Other times there were so many of us that we had to use two tables; the gaggle of children giggling together at one, the adults trading musings and ideas at another. Regardless of how many guests came to sup, the dinner event was a way to mark time. Down in a valley, in a 600-year old house, surrounded only by sheep and crows, with no to-do list or cell phone service, moments seem to slip into days. I suppose it would be possible to watch the sun move across the sky, but it's a nearly-insurmountable challenge to keep track of the hours in such a magical, pastoral paradise. But everyone has to eat, so dinner was the event that kept us grounded, kept us from floating away with the cabbage white butterflies lilting over the lavender.
And as I helped to chop vegetables that my friend Jessica had pulled from the garden just moments before the dinner preparations began, I felt grounded and focused, even as the distractions of lively music and stampeding children played in the background. As I reconnected with old friends and made new ones at the dinner table, passing platters heaped with colorful culinary experiments, I felt recharged and engaged. As I scrubbed or towel-dried pots and pans with intelligent companions keen on good things for the world, I felt like a contributor to a larger effort, even if this time the effort was only to put away the skillets.
In that way, food ---the often humble, sometimes magical vehicle for our basic caloric needs--- created a time structure for us, grounded us, lent us focus, recharged us, engaged us, and allowed us all to contribute, which begs the question: What else is there to a life well-lived? Really, what else?!
The answer is that there is really not much more.
We'll all have to chase papers around our desks, send money hither and yon, check our messages, and on and on and on but that's not what we truly need to do to thrive. I have to admit that there's more to life than food...but not much...not really. At the center of it all, we simply just need to stay warm enough and eat enough. If we can do those two little things while surrounded by good people, we've absolutely done enough. And we've probably accomplished more than we imagined.