As Christmas approaches, my house is filled with the smell of baking cookies. Year after year, I spend December evenings baking—traditional sugar cookies, rugelach, chocolate-dipped melting moments, pecan balls, hazelnut shortbread, regular shortbread… Our family’s tradition is to set aside one day before Christmas and invite friends over, bake and decorate with them, and give them each a plate of cookies to take home. And then we give away the rest.
But this year is different.
Oh, I’m still baking, still inviting friends, and still giving away much of what I bake. But as I spend time in the kitchen, I can’t stop thinking about some of the people I have met over the years who cannot bake. Some don’t have an oven. Some don’t have a mother to bake with. Others don’t even have the flour to bake with. Still others are bedridden. Or crippled.
In Haiti, I met a pastor and his wife who founded an orphanage. They’ve taken in over 20 orphan girls. When I met them right after the 2010 earthquake, Madame Bazile was cooking all the meals for the children over a charcoal fire.
I think of her when I bake cookies.
In a Mexican dump, I met people who dig through the trash for their livelihood. I returned to the dump day after day, drawn there by the openness and warmth of the individuals I met and befriended in that squalor.
I think of these people when I bake cookies.
In Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, tens of thousands of street children earn their living in the streets by begging. When our van was caught in traffic, I saw them swarming around stopped cars. We handed out bread or granola bars when they came to our window.
I think of them when I bake, and ache inside.
In the Mother Teresa AIDS Orphanage in Ethiopia, I saw 400 HIV-positive children playing, reaching for my hand, clinging to me, wanting to be held and loved. Since they are orphans, they will never bake with their mothers.
I think of them when I bake with my children.
One gray Rochester day just before Christmas a few years ago, I visited an acquaintance in a hospital, thinking I might cheer her up. She suffered with rheumatoid arthritis for 50 years and was about to have her leg amputated. Although she would soon be wheelchair bound for life and her hands were twisted to the point of being almost useless, she exuded joy and optimism. I came away humbled. She cheered me up.
She was not able to bake cookies. So I brought her some.