There's a restaurant chain in the Bay Area called Cafe Gratitude. The food is mostly raw and completely vegan. The accompanying ethos is neo-hippy and neo-corporate. The overarching theme, "What are you grateful for?", is printed on the menus, the cookbook, even bumper-stickers. Every item on the menu is an affirmation. "You Are Effervescent" is a carbonated ginger lemonade, priced at a mere 4.95 for a small glass and 6.95 for a large. "You Are Whole", my personal favorite, is a bowl of shredded kale, kim chi, tahini, sprouts and a sprinkling of teriyaki almonds (which, if you're craving more, will only cost you $4.95 for an additional fifteen nuts). The correct ordering method is to say, "I am effervescent, please. And I am whole." To which your hippier-than-thou server will respond soothingly, gazing deeply into your eyes, "You ARE effervescent. You ARE whole." At which point the eye-contact will be held a little too long and you will, blushing, sink behind your menu. It is, even for someone born and bred here, someone who canvassed for Obama in Colorado, who brews her own kombucha, who adopted a child from Ethiopia, for God's sake, a little much. If their food wasn't so delicious, their "live pizza" made of buckwheat, olives, cashews, sprouts and "Brazil nut parmesan cheese", their chocolate mousse made of Irish moss (what's Irish moss?), almond milk, dates and agave, their pate made of cashews and bell pepper, if it wasn't so yummy and guiltless, I'd never set foot in the place. But it's a neurotic eater's dream.
If Saturday Night Live ever wanted to parody Cafe Gratitude, they could simply shoot a documentary. It's just too easy, too ripe with earnestness. But, even so, Ben and I aren't above cracking jokes. We call it "Cafe Attitude" or "Cafe Platitude", and invent menu items such as "I Am Broke" because, goddamn, but it's expensive.
The very best/worst practice of Cafe Gratitude is the "question of the day". The server will ask, "What brings joy to you today?" or "Who in your life celebrates you?" My trick for a long time was to answer, "Wow, that's a good question. Let me think about that one. I'll get back to you," and scurry out the back once the bill was paid. Lately, though, they'd get an earful.
Because I am grateful. Beyond the usual daily blessings; Ben, the kids, our health, the warmth of our extended family, the roof over our heads, the beautiful food on our table.
School started this week. My complete community is spread before me in splendor. I walk through the school grounds and I'm greeted by friend after friend. I meet parents of new classmates and often feel sure that they, too, have the potential to be included in the enchanted circle of my nearest and dearest. I ride my bike through the green August morning, Mihiretu greeting cars and pedestrians, Mae speeding ahead on her new, giant mountain bike, the backpack she made on her strong shoulders, Lana careening from left to right just in front of me, always a hair from crashing and taking me down with her but so proud to be getting her own self to school. And everywhere, everywhere, people I know. People I love.
Every Wednesday, first thing, there is what's called "Morning Meeting". The kids sit on the blacktop, each class grouped loyally around their teacher. Parents huddle together in the back, whispering, gossiping, making inappropriate jokes. And the principal makes announcements and leads the school cheer. This first Wednesday, she led us in the school song, "We Are the Brookside Bears".
Our first week of school in San Jose, a year ago now, every time I dropped the kids off and scanned the crowd of strangers for someone I might know, someone I might want to know, as I pushed my bike across concrete and more concrete to the edge of this foreign campus, this song, this little tune about this sweet school by the side of a brook, would play in my head and, ridiculously, I'd fight tears. We are the Brookside (sniff), we are the Brookside (snuffle), we are the Brookside Bears (sob).
This week, as I stood with my pals, many of whom I've known since I was pregnant with Mae, some from as far back as high school, as the kids lifted their small pure voices uncertainly in song, I was filled with what can only be called gratitude. Gratitude that there is a place on this earth where I am so thoroughly among my people, where I am so exactly home.
The next time I order my I Am Whole with a small I Am Effervescent, please, and the stoned-on-vegetables hippy server asks me some drippy variation of "What are you grateful for", he's going to have to take a seat and kick off his Earth shoes because it's going to be a very long answer. I am a lucky girl.