For quite a few years holiday seasons felt a little forced. I hid curmudgeonly sighs as I rolled Mexican wedding cookies in powdered sugar. The lights, the tree, the commercial nature of it all felt exhausting.
Christmas is only a few days away and I’m not done with my shopping. I haven’t done a lick of baking. My gifts were priority shipped yesterday. But it doesn’t feel like it matters because we’ve listened to something like twenty-six versions of Winter Wonderland this week and almost every time both kids join in, my son bobbing his head in time. And a couple of days ago they tore around in the early morning snow. Domestically, the season feels lighter. I may not be organized, but I’m cheerful.
But there’s a dichotomy inside me, one that is, I’m certain, a reality for many this week. How, the one side of me asks the other, can you rush along in a typical holiday routine, scrambling to meet deadlines, thrilling over an app that helps organize and track your budget for gifts?
Because the one side is shattered, of course, watching like the bystander I am as a whole community struggles to come to terms with the horror of the past week.
Before the Newtown massacre, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that, had I been a few years older, I would have gone to high school with Clackamas Town Center shooting victim Steve Forsyth. As it is, we likely had many of the same teachers, walked the same halls in the school’s original building in the 1980’s. We knew at least one person in common, enough that his name appeared on one of my social media feeds.
I’ve written about gun violence before. I’ve said these things. So many people have. What else can be said? There are no more words, unless they’re words of comfort to the victims and words of insistence to our elected officials.
This kind of mayhem doesn’t happen in free societies. It’s an arms race, as a friend of mine astutely labeled it: the compulsion to own a gun because other, worse people own guns. This is a sign that we are at war. And warring nations are not, cannot be, free.
I’m grieved that in the aftermath of such a tragedy, so many believe that it is still, somehow, their right to own an assault weapon. Rights should be curtailed by public safety. That’s why we have a justice system. There are some things, no matter how much a person wants them, no matter how well he says he’s going to take care of them, that don’t belong in the public sphere. A private citizen doesn’t have the right to own some of the smallpox virus because she likes microbiology.
The issue is so big and so maddening that I can become immobile. But that’s not the answer at all.
There is a twofold summons. Carry on and cry out. Make baked apples and call for a ban on assault weapons. Celebrate and question and rage and ring the bell until someone turns around to pay attention. Move on as a more informed, more sensitive citizen. Pull out the Lady apples that are so small they don’t even cover the palm of your hand. Core them and soak them in brandy. Sign another petition even though half a dozen with about the same language already bear your name. Do it all because lots of people who could have been your neighbors are gone because of complacency, lobbying, greed, violent definitions of manhood and a basic failure to attend to the common good.
Let ordinary activities – baking apples, delivering pies – be a consolation, proof that you’re showing up with insistence, care, civility and a willingness to hope.
Brandy-Soaked Baked Apples with Cranberry Compote
10 Lady apples or 5-6 small apples
3-4 cups brandy
2 cups fresh cranberries
¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a sprinkling of salt
cream whipped with sugar and orange zest
or vanilla ice cream (optional)
Core the apples using an apple corer or by carefully cutting out the core with a paring knife.
Place cored apples into a large, tall jar (to limit the amount of brandy needed to soak them).
Pour brandy over the top until all the apples are covered. Place a lid on the jar and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°.
Place soaked apples on a paper towel-lined plate to drain for a moment. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place apples on top.
Bake until apples are soft but not collapsing, about 25-30 minutes (larger apples will take longer).
While the apples bake, rinse cranberries and combine with maple syrup, orange zest and vanilla. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of the berries have burst their skins.
Turn off the heat and add an afterthought of salt, just the barest sprinkling.
*Optional: Add 1-2 teaspoons of the soaking brandy along with the first four ingredients.
When apples are done, place one on each plate and fill the cavity of each with the compote, using a small spoon. Serve with extra compote and whipping cream.