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Southern Food, Soulmates, & the Art of Slowing Down

I exited the airport and felt the crisp Carolina air hit my cheeks. It was cool outside bordering on cold, yet I felt a sense of relief when I realized I would be trading in a snowy weekend in the Northeast for brisk winter mornings in the south. “Is this really the south,” I wondered, spotting New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania license plates within a matter of moments. My best friend and partner in crime Crisi joined me on this business trip, with high hopes of scoring some epic deals thrift shopping while I tended to work. “I’ve entered hunter / gatherer mode,” she said with a chuckle, “I brought an extra duffle bag with me in case I find something I can’t live without.”

 

I smiled back at her, not only because of the pure joy exuding from her smile at the idea of tackling a pre-meditated list of high-end consignment shoppes…but also because of the sense of wonder in her voice. I’ve become something of a work in progress in the practice of gratitude over the last few years, and one of my priorities has become a focus on mindset. If you cannot change your circumstances, you must change your mind. If you cannot change either, you may never know the beauty of existing in the present moment. And yet there was something so satisfying about the anticipation in her voice, about nothing particularly special. Landing a bargain at “Vintage Values” was hardly a life-altering feat: and yet it’s the excitement about the prospect that the world is her oyster, and she would discover the pearl with gusto that delighted me. It was akin to a toddler receiving a new toy but joyously playing with the box instead. It seems like such an ordinary moment, yet simple pleasures are really at the core of who we are as humans.

 

We walked past the tiny single terminal and took note of our ride. No, it wasn’t an Uber driver: it was a 6-foot 7-inch force of nature wearing a Kelly-green polo shirt and pageboy cap. Papa Jerry, as we’ve lovingly referred to him for the last decade, is a recently retired veteran ICU nurse and mentor. He stood as a beacon of hope and an embodiment of fortitude in our cardiothoracic intensive care unit for thirty-six years. While Crisi and I both found our way beyond the burnout of being ICU nurses in different ways, our friendship with one another and our ICU family would never falter. And Jerry? He stood at the center of this work family. If we are the stars in the sky...Jerry is the sun. He and his lovely wife (equally as formidable, while hardly reaching past her husband’s belly button) graciously invited us into their home for the weekend. “Why would you pay for a hotel,” they insisted, “We have everything you need here!”

 

The reason I would pay for a hotel – everyone who knows me well, understands this about me – is because I cannot stomach the idea of receiving anything from anybody. I am a giver. I always have been. And for reasons beyond my realm of explanation, I cannot accept gifts, hospitality, or compliments without putting up a fight. I don’t think it’s as sinister as feeling indebted to others because of it: I simply feel as though I shouldn’t burden others with things or experiences I could provide for myself…even when it’s far more complicated for me to handle everything. However, in keeping in line with my own growth and evolution, learning to say “thank you” in place of flat-out refusal is something I'm practicing.


Papa Jerry tossed our luggage into the trunk with ease, as we glided across the leather seats of the Jeep Cherokee. “Craig David! I love this song,” I declared, “You’ve got real bangers in here, Jer!” We caught up about the quick but bumpy flight, and I was once again overcome with gratitude by the existence of over-the-counter motion sickness remedies.


"Why is it called Cape Fear,” Crisi asked, genuinely curious about the answer. If there is one thing you need to know about Crisi, it’s that her middle name “Marie” could be easily replaced by “Curiosity.” “The seas were so treacherous when ships used to face the storms that the sailors were terrified,” Papa Jerry tells us. “That’s a terribly negative name,” I replied, “They should really consider rebranding.” “Cape Excitement,” one of us shouts. “Cape Anticipation,” another adds. “Cape F*ck Around and Find Out,” I say in a fit of laughter. “Cape FAAFO,” Crisi replies, “That’s the winner!

 

And the entire weekend? It went a lot like this car ride. We seamlessly flitted back and forth between deep thoughts and witty banter. We discussed everything from astronomy and oceanography to emotional intelligence and imposter syndrome. We told tales of our travels – individually or in pairs – and vowed to one day combine forces and share collective moments abroad as a group. We spoke of people but not about people: instead, we praised those we adore. We reminisced of those we miss. We told stories we had probably each heard a hundred times before but felt it was so good it would bear repeating.

 

We went thrift shopping for vintage goods, keeping the theme that life is cyclical and some things never go out of style at top of mind. We made friends with cordial cashiers and curious customers. We dined at a Waffle House where a server with an impressive Southern drawl took a seat in our booth to get to know us for a while. We toyed with the idea of becoming Papa and Mama’s neighbors, attending an open house for a historic home that Crisi could only describe as “haunted house aesthetic vibes.” We tasted Peruvian chaufa that would rival Machu Picchu as a "Wonder of the World" and savored fresh pastries worth their weight in butter and drank double filtered dark roast coffee to ease into the day.

 

Somehow, we turned the ordinary extraordinary. Somehow, we were too much in the very best way. Somehow, we did everything and nothing all at the same time, and a business trip to record a podcast episode turned into the perfect mix of simple pleasures. Because you see, sometimes our soulmates aren’t a romantic connection. Sometimes, philia reigns supreme. Philia: love characterized by a platonic but true friendship. Philia, which feels a lot like the family we choose.

 

I didn’t remember to take very many pictures this weekend…and in my book, this is a barometer for being in the presence of great company. Life has a funny way of bringing the people into your life that are intended to be there. Sometimes, we endure losses; endings; the closing of chapters; the end of cycles; goodbyes in so many ways. Yet when you’re lucky enough to have a Crisi and a Jerry (and, by extension, their other halves): you thank your lucky stars that Coastal Carolina is only a short flight away.

 

I have been taking Portuguese lessons for the last few months, and one of the first words I learned is called saudade. Saudade is a sense of longing or nostalgia for a person, place, or experience. In other words, it can be defined as “the love that remains.” When you miss someone or something; when you think back upon a moment or a memory; and you feel a smile cross your face…this, is saudade. And I…thinking fondly upon so many moments in my life that can only be described as achingly beautiful…feel a sense of saudade for the friends that became family,


The moments that became memories,


The trips that shaped me,


The love that defined me,


And every moment that the universe uncovered magic in the mundane.  



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