Letting go. It is a concept which seems innately tied to this time of year. Parents are learning to let go of tiny hands at pre-K and kindergarten classroom doors; slightly more seasoned parents are learning to let go of teenagers who have swapped their place at the family dinner table for a dorm room they now call home. We teachers are letting go too; we’re learning to let go of the students, routines, and sometimes even the classrooms, which we held near and dear just a few months ago. Even Mother Nature joins in solidarity as the trees start letting go of their leaves. There’s a sadness in letting go, and often a degree of pain, but there’s profound beauty in it too; I mean, just look around at the trees in the coming weeks.
I still remember the moment when the harsh reality of fall hit me. I was six years old and dutifully completing my homework assignment for the evening: to walk around the backyard and gather a few beautiful leaves for a leaf-shading exercise at school the next day. I painstakingly narrowed down my choices to 3, packed them in a sandwich baggie, had my mom sign off on my 1st grade homework book, and sat my backpack in its place for the morning. The next morning when I arrived at school and took those same leaves out of my bag, they were noticeably drier and more fragile; by afternoon art class, one was crumbling at my touch. I remember looking around, distraught and yet comforted to see that everyone else’s were doing the same…and I still remember the teacher’s explanation that of course our leaves are crumbling- they’re not on the tree anymore so they’re dead leaves. Now, I’m sure she had a nice kid-friendly way of wording it, but all I remember is the moment of clarity in my little 6-year-old brain…followed swiftly of course by pure devastation. These beautiful brightly colored leaves which I loved to jump in, rake into pumpkin-faced plastic bags, and crunch under my feet were only so beautiful because they were dead. Talk about an existential day in the first grade…
Luckily, I recovered from my first experience of devastation, and in time began to realize that life is a series of beautiful moments, many of which can only arrive after we choose to let go of what is comfortable, familiar, and often cherished.
So what does this have to with food allergies?? Well, pretty much everything. There’s the obvious: letting go of the foods you’ve come to love and yet your body has come to hate. It’s a weird kind of letting go, because on one hand, you feel so miserable that initially letting the foods go is the easiest thing in the world. You rediscover what it feels like to be alive, to wake up in the morning with a clear head and non-aching limbs. Of course, as your health returns, the letting go becomes a little harder- in part because you have the energy to care again, but also because that reality of forever starts to set in. Letting go for a brief time is manageable, letting go forever is a horse of a different color. Take my word for it, letting go of the foods your body hates is a profoundly beautiful thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy- I certainly have my moments of longing- but most of the time, it’s the most beautiful world I can imagine. I’m healthy, I’m happy, and I’m alive: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than that!
Now of course, that’s not the only “letting go” involved. There’s letting go of little traditions: the meals shared at a favorite restaurant which is now off-limits; your favorite Thanksgiving side dish or seasonal Starbucks beverage; the nostalgic visit to the hometown diner where you spent many a childhood evening. These are a little harder, but there’s still beauty waiting on the other side. There are other new traditions just waiting to begin..and having these will do nothing to diminish the memory of the old traditions which will always hold a place in your heart.
Then there’s the “letting go” of expectations: both yours and those of people around you. I’ll admit this has been the hardest one for me. It means letting go of the pictures you had in your head of how certain life events were going to look: cutting into a giant wedding cake, sharing Friday night pizza dinners with your family, eating apple cider donuts while picking pumpkins on a Saturday morning in October. It means letting go of what other people think when you walk into a restaurant with your thermal tote lunchbox, when you grill the chef at a restaurant before making a reservation, when you politely refuse every single hors d’oeuvres at each wedding you attend. I’ve learned over these past four years that people will make comments, they will make judgments, and sometimes they’ll just make faces…and for the longest time I couldn’t let that go. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I had a moment (during mass…who is surprised by that one??) when it just hit me as clearly as my leaf realization did two decades ago: if I don’t let go and stop worrying about what other people think, I’m only hurting myself. People will make judgments, whether warranted or not. I make judgments too. I wish I didn’t, but we’re all human. I realized that there is profound beauty in this letting go especially: not only do I enable myself to live fully again, but I’ve learned to better empathize with everyone I meet. Again, I’m not saying I’m perfect, not by a longshot, but I do find myself thinking twice when I notice something out of the ordinary and start to draw my own assumptions. Through my own experience these past four years, I have seen that as a society, we’re far too quick to judge when something seems a little out of the ordinary or different than what we expect, and because of that I feel like I have found the most beautiful gift of all: I have become much more open, more curious, and I’d even say more loving than I ever would have been without a celiac diagnosis. It certainly isn’t always easy, but I have found a beauty even in that, too.
So what did I let go of today? Today I let go of my self-imposed “no pumpkin until fall” commandment. I pulled out a can of pumpkin that has been sitting in my cabinet since last November and I let go of the “poor me, I can’t have my old pumpkin muffins anymore” mentality and moved into problem-solving mode. The result? Well, I whipped up a batch of what might be the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever made, at least in recent years anyway.
Katie-safe Cinnamon-Sugar Pumpkin Muffins
1 1/2 cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance spread (melted)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. flaxseed + 3 Tbsp. water
Mix all the ingredients. Pour into muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
When finished baking, melt Earth Balance spread. Dip the top of each muffin into the melted butter and then into a bowl of sugar mixed with cinnamon.
So my challenge for you today is to take a moment and look at your own life. Food allergies or not, I’m sure there is probably something you’re holding onto that might turn into something more beautiful if you’re willing to let go. So do it…but first make a batch of these as comfort food for the journey. Life, even in the difficult “letting go” moments, is just better with a cinnamon-sugar pumpkin muffin in your hand 🙂