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Angst, Flour, Order

Illustration by Hollie Chastain

On the last Saturday of March, I went to borrow a Bundt pan from my grandmother. The whole world was making banana bread, and I had no intention of being left out.

It was warm—the kind of afternoon that would normally send droves of Seattleites to the lake or the park. Warm days are precious here, and we have a remarkably low standard for what constitutes T-shirt-and-shorts weather. I traded the sweatpants that had been my uniform since I was sent home from school two weeks earlier for real denim shorts and set off on the quarter-mile walk to my grandparents’ condo.

I walked quickly. One block north, around the corner and down the stairs, then one block west, like so many times before. But when I saw someone walking toward me on the sidewalk, I didn’t say hi. I crossed the street, stayed away, tried not to make eye contact. It’s lonely to be isolated, but it’s lonelier when human interaction is right there, just across the street.

Reading by Iman Lavery

At the building, I dialed the number of my grandparents’ suite with the hem of my shirt pulled up to cover my finger. I heard the buzz, the click of the lock, the reassurance that I was allowed to be here. I used my shoulder to push open the door.

I didn’t stay for long, because short, efficient exchanges are a sign of respect these days. My grandparents invited me in, invited me to sit, asked “Do you want something to eat? To drink?” I kept my distance—out of love. The Bundt pan tucked under one arm, I promised to bring them a couple slices and slipped out as quickly as I had come in.

The bananas were in the paper bag on the counter where I’d left them overnight because Google told me it would make them brown faster. I set out the rest of the ingredients for Chrissy Teigen’s Twitter-famous banana bread—eggs, canola oil, flour, sugar, vanilla instant pudding mix, baking soda, salt, shredded coconut, dark chocolate (chopped into chunks).

I like order, organization, predictability. I like to bake when I’m stressed because I like to follow recipes, to know that if I complete each step as instructed, I can re-create the mouthwatering, well-lit product in the photo. It’s something I have control over. I couldn’t control the fact that I wasn’t at school, or that my other grandmother wasn’t allowed to leave her assisted living facility or have visitors, or that the end was not in sight, but I could make Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread in a borrowed Bundt pan and share it with my family. It’s not enough—this gesture at regaining control. But it’s something.

Making banana bread is a project. It is finite; it has an end, a product. With the future so uncertain, we are all looking for ways to see something through, beginning to end. I mashed the bananas, mixed in the eggs and oil, and felt a thousand hands on mine, five thousand fingers wrapped around the whisk. We combined the dry ingredients. We stirred the batter together, poured it into the pan, slid it into the oven. We watched it rise.

This essay appeared in the fall issue of Radcliffe Magazine.

Iman Lavery is an intern in the Radcliffe Institute Office of Communications. A concentrator in English with a secondary in film and visual studies, she is a member of the Harvard College Class of 2022.

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