Just minutes after picking me up to drive us to lunch not long ago, my nephew tried to swerve to avoid a car making an ill-timed left turn across two lanes. As I saw the vehicle approaching in the passenger side mirror, I instinctively leaned my upper torso to the left and braced for impact. The metal-on-metal crunch confirmed the worst. At first I remained seated and steadied my breathing while my nephew exchanged information with the other driver, another young man. I nursed my right elbow, grazed by the door. Eventually I got out of the car to survey the damage, including a dangling front bumper. Since the vehicle belonged to his mother, we decided the best thing would be for him to bring it to a body shop while I walked home to shake off the episode.
As I lay down on the floor to do a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson to both calm my nervous system and create more space in my left rib cage, which had scrunched into itself when I leaned away from the door, I considered our close call. While relieved that no one had sustained a serious injury, and that I had the wherewithal and the tools to immediately address my distress, I realized that while I’d been looking forward to spending time with my nephew, I had not been excited about our destination: a kosher restaurant in the next town.
As a foodie who loves quality, variety, imaginative decor and competent and attentive service, and places a high value on excellence, I find many kosher eateries uninspired at best and infuriating at worst. The food might be certified by esteemed rabbis yet the experience overall is frequently far from divine, let alone a memory one wants to relish or savor. While kosher restaurateurs provide a service to their community, the same clientele are often hostage to gloomy or indifferent servers, an unimaginative menu, unappealing decor, high prices and a “take it or leave it” attitude, none of which make my mouth water or helps my digestion.
Indeed, I often eat hurriedly, rather than mindfully to hasten the exit. The ineffable qualities that make a meal delightful if not an almost divine experience cannot be easily replicated let alone certified by a religious authority. North American kosher establishments, unless they are high end, frequently fall short. Yet, I have family who are strict in their observance of Jewish dietary laws; if we want to consume more than a coffee outside the home, off to a kosher restaurant we go.
Since I enjoy discovering new eateries and trying unusual foods and flavor combinations, when I enter a kosher establishment I frequently leave behind what brings me pleasure and many values I hold dear. I’m often left with dispirited and deprived tastebuds and a feeling of having fulfilled a duty rather than jointly enjoying a delight. Moreover, that I can’t easily share my love of food with my nephew and nieces who keep kosher is a source of sadness and disappointment.
After the accident, while lying on the floor and moving gently with awareness in the non-goal oriented way of the Feldenkrais Method, it hit me harder than the collision itself that I needed to own my projection that kosher restaurants are “unimaginative” and “uninspired” and look myself in the mirror. I had suggested to my nephew that, during his visit from college, we meet for lunch.
In the moment I casually offered that possibility (indeed, “Let’s have lunch” is practically a cliché), I had been operating on culinary cruise control, neither alert nor awake to more imaginative options. Since the weather had been warm, we could have had a light picnic outdoors. I could have thought outside the lunch box entirely and suggested we go for a walk or a bike ride. I’d been on auto-pilot, mindlessly following a tired algorithm that didn’t take more of my desires and preferences into account. Even if we’d arrived to the restaurant as planned, I had been complicit in creating a suboptimal situation.
In the end, after he took care of the car and called the insurance company, and after I had a snack, I met him at his parents’ house and we walked to a cafe for a coffee. That allowed us to have the kind of unimpeded conversation I’d been hungry for. Great food would have amplified the experience but it had not been required.
Luckily, this wake up crash did not leave me needing medical attention. After a day, the pain in my ribs subsided. But it did make me aware that if, Heaven forbid, I should be in another accident, I’d rather be heading somewhere I either need to go or want to go rather just than going along for the ride, especially if it’s my dutiful, unconscious self that’s behind the wheel or charting the course.