“Life is just too complicated, too unpredictable, too hard and too fascinating…to dole out obvious, easily assimilated lessons.”
So writes A. O. Scott in his cinematic review of The Secret of the Grain, the story of a Tunisian family and their struggles as immigrants in their adopted country of France. It is a tale of commitment and hard work, frustration and ambition, with little to show for it all in the end.
For some reason, reading this review on the morning of Christmas Eve resonated with me. For among other things, The Secret of the Grain is about extended family relationships, culminating in a “lavish, hectic dinner, complete with music and belly dancing.” The secret of the film is found in “the close, tireless, enthusiastic attention it pays to the most mundane daily tasks, especially those involving food.”
This morning I am off to the market to procure the myriad items necessary to assemble our annual Christmas Eve dinner, my gift to my family. Today there will be visits to the grocer, the winery and the fish market. When all is done, the table will be set with a variety of special seafood and pasta dishes for everyone to enjoy. Undoubtedly, the meal will be punctuated with passionate discussions as the evening progresses. Eventually everyone will retire for the night, anticipating the opening of the presents on Christmas morning.
Yesterday at the office I evaluated a two-year-old girl for well child care. I had not laid eyes on her for the past nine months. I had the chance to observe this girl as she explored the exam room while I engaged her mother in an extended conversation. In the end it was the mother who broached the diagnosis. “I think my husband and I don’t want to face it,” she said. I had to tell her that I shared her concerns: it appeared to me that her beautiful two-year-old child was indeed autistic.
Christmas is nearly upon us; I can feel the strain of the season, the pains of incessant labor that leave me exhausted and spent. Yet today I will make an honest attempt to rally myself; for, in Mr. Scott’s words, “cares are so tightly woven into our lives that the only practical alternative to despair is an unruly, militant joy.”