Death and Cured Pork
*Written under the influence of Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa, Durigutti Cabernet Franc 2017, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger (1975).
Somewhere, not only every orator but every man should let out all the length of all the reins; should find or make a frank and hearty expression of what force and meaning is in him.”
My mother-in-law gave me a leather-bound copy of Emerson’s Essays early in my marriage. I’ve kept the quote idling off to the side ever since I first read it with a sense of anticipation—a belief that after I’d lived long enough I could do just that: drop the reins, speak my mind with no shadow of turning.
Have I reached that time? I’ve no way of knowing with absolute certainty. But I’ve never found that kind of certainty attractive anyway. Not long ago my dear mother said to me, “John, life goes so very fast. If there are things you want to do, don’t wait.” So, with flashes of uncertainty across my mind’s sky, here I go.
When I pitched this column idea, I said I’d want the freedom to say things like, “Every time Franklin Graham tweets, an angel flies headfirst into the side of a cliff.” Or “It sure feels like some women don't like Rachel Hollis simply because she’s perky, successful, and has a lotta orgasms.” The editor said, “Let’s go.”
Someday when we meet up yonder / We’ll stroll hand in hand again
(“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”)
As I write these words my uncle is making funeral preparations for my aunt. She’d been sick—in and out of the hospital for some time. Then all of a sudden she was in the ICU. Her condition deteriorated quick as a blink. And then she died. Just like that. God, I hate death. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I know some profess that death is simply a part of life. And sure, it is. I get the whole cirrrr-cullll-of-lyyyyfe thing. But to sigh and say, “It is what it is”... Nope, that’s certifiably babonkers in my book.
I believe Jesus shook with weepy rage at the lip of Lazarus’s tomb because he, too, hated death. And I further believe that if you and I had been there when they nailed Jesus to the tree, we would not have seen a male crucifix model with milky white feet nicely crossed. Instead, we would’ve beheld a raging black stallion kicking and kicking against the pricks until he rested not in peace but in inevitable resignation. He died. Just like that.
And he cried like a baby / And he screamed like a panther
(“Time of the Preacher”)
Rest assured, I’m a card-carrying believer in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. But that death has to be a part of the gig? Not a fan. My wife and I live with a marital code. One of our rules says if we ever say we hate something (which is not often), we have to immediately follow up with something we love. We’ve found honoring that aspect of the code to be wise. So, yes, I hate death. But I love, love, love carbonara.
The origins of the classic Italian dish are murky, but here’s my favorite rendition: Carbonara was named after coal miners, the carbonai, who brought the dish down from the mountains. The miners could gather the ingredients from local farms and keep them without refrigeration, and they could prepare the dish over a wood fire with one pot. In other words, it’s a dish for the commoner. A man like me. God, I love it. And, while the ratio of ingredients vary, the ingredients themselves don’t: eggs, cheese, pasta, and cured pork.
My daughter was studying abroad in Florence a couple of years ago, and we decided to visit her. We didn’t really have the funds, but we dug in the couch cushions for loose change, donated a bunch of plasma, and boarded that big old jet airliner. We set up basecamp in Florence, and we took short trips to Rome and Siena. I ordered carbonara in every restaurant we visited. I did, hand on Bible. I wanted to be able to say, “I’ve eaten a ton of carbonara, and such-and-so makes the best.” In the Gospel According to John (Blase), the best carbonara sits on the menu of this little place in Florence: Il Porcospino, which, translated, means “The Porcupine.”
If I ever find myself on death row, which I would obviously hate, there would be no question as to my last meal. I would fall in the merciful arms of Jesus with a belly full of carbonara. Hand on Bible.
Now my hands on the wheel of something that’s real / and I feel like I’m going home
(“Hands on the Wheel”)