The Life Lessons of the Humble Banana Bread
Start with two overripe bananas.
In a society obsessed with youth and beauty, these decaying fruits bring to mind the richness of age, the secret sweetness and hidden wisdoms that maturity and experience can bring; a timely reminder, since many of us can’t remember the last time we bothered to put on make-up. And perhaps that is something that we can carry forward; to embrace and celebrate our natural ageing and all its gifts; to see the passage of time not as a loss but as a ripening. Because if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that growing old is a privilege not granted to everybody.
This classic cupboard staple has been taken for granted for many years. When lockdown began, it’s likely that all of us had a forgotten half-packet at the back of a cupboard. It’s creased, crumpled bag, folded and sprinkled in a layer of dry flour dust, a sad testament to its overlooked status. But no more. Flour is the gold dust of coronavirus. Overnight, we became a nation obsessed with baking, but also quarantine reminds us that the simple things are often the essential things. Too often underappreciated, the empty supermarket shelves are a startling visual lesson in appreciating the simple things in life. Like flour. Or physical contact. Or freedom of movement. I can’t tell you how excited I was last week when Tesco finally had bread-flour again. But in years gone by, I would not have remembered to experience gratitude for the simple ability to purchase this basic commodity. Lockdown taught me that.
I have exchanged countless WhatsApp messages with my girlfriends about where we might possibly be able to source this usually everyday miracle. And there’s a lesson in that too. Because unlike the supermarket shelves decimated by hordes of crazed stockpilers, my circle embraced the idea of community, proactively trying to help each other to find what we needed. And it has been heartening to see so many of the British public taking on board the same idea, with Facebook groups to coordinate grocery shopping, prescription collecting, and just good old-fashioned checking-in on the vulnerable in our local communities. And it gives me hope that we will emerge from this experience a kinder, more compassionate, community-orientated country.
Break in two eggs.
Traditionally an Easter symbol of new life, eggs supply structure and stability to banana bread. And as we crack each one, casting aside its fragmented shell, so too can we cast aside the shell of our previous selves and view this unprecedented moment in history as an opportunity for new beginnings and new life. There has been a lot written in the media and online about the impossibility of returning to life as it was. We have all been changed and shaped by what has happened. Some of us have experienced trauma and loss. All of us have made sacrifices and experienced upheaval. It is right that we should emerge altered. And perhaps what we can learn from this enforced time at home are the things that we can use to give structure and stability to this new way of life. Lockdown has shown us that much of what we had believed to be impossible is actually possible: flexible working or working from home; new approaches to educating and measuring the academic achievements of our children; providing greater government financial support to those in need; being more mindful and considerate of those around us; a deeper appreciation for our NHS and essential key-workers - this one still needs translating into a greater financial appreciation but it’s a start; reducing our impact on the environment. What a utopian future we could be building if we were able to carry some of these lessons forward.
The recipe for Banana Bread calls for the butter to be 'softened'. I think we could all benefit from being a little softer, mixing more with those around us, working together to produce something delicious and far more than the sum of its parts. There’s a lot of machismo around the idea of ‘hardness’. We tell people to “toughen up”, “be strong”, “go hard or go home”, but I’d encourage you to re-evaluate the benefits of a little softening. The butter itself is unchanged by the process. It is still butter. There is no loss in softness. Just the opportunity to approach others with greater kindness and compassion and understanding. To allow ourselves to be gentle in a hard world is in itself an act of strength. To refuse to be hardened by life’s knocks, to preserve our empathy and to continue to open our arms and hearts to others despite all of the suffering that we see and experience is to maintain a state that best allows us to contribute to our communities and to participate fully in all of life’s experiences.
Finally, pour in the sugar.
As Mary Poppins so wisely informs us, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Lockdown has been hard, a bitter pill to swallow for many of us and in many ways. We have been deprived of many of our comforts and support systems: physical contact; family; friends; travel; routine; school; childcare; it’s a long list. But it has been our medicine too. What we as a country have needed to do to combat the virus and to protect the vulnerable. For some of us, it may have been healing in other ways: helping us to re-evaluate our lives; reminding us of our passions; reconnecting us with our households; reincorporating some self-care into our routines. For others, it has just been hard. Those people are the ones we will need to look out for and support the most as we move forwards.
So the sugar helps. Helps to make the hard times more bearable. So I encourage you to be generous with it. To treat yourself as often as you can in whatever way best serves your soul. Sprinkle sugar liberally over your life. We could all use a little more sweetness right now.