About every quarter, we pack an overnight bag, leave the dogs with a housesitter, and drive the two-and-a-half hours from LA to San Diego to visit my favorite cousin, Randy, and his long-time girlfriend, Lisa. Wonderful people, warm, hospitable and friendly, Lisa is a Catholic who attends mass, well, religiously, and Randy is a bit of an atheist. In fact, he seems to have embraced food as his religion, and Greg and I inevitably come home with a "meat hangover" by Sunday evening.
So this weekend I thought I would look for the spiritual aspects of the experience. Randy and Lisa are also the most consummate consumers we know, and often our weekend consists of shopping for food, cooking, drinking and eating, with an occasional break to shop for the next meal or items on sale somewhere. Of course, I don't just mean eating. I mean serious chowing down. Randy's idea of a mixed grill for four consists of a rack of ribs, a couple of hand-spitted rotisserie chickens, some steaks he couldn't pass up, and a smoked sausage. And the man can cook! The sausage is, after all, only there to show off his smoker, which is about the size of most people's refrigerators.
Driving down to San Diego, Greg and I stop on the way (as usual) in San Juan Capistrano. Home to swallows and an historical mission, for us it is the place where we can get an awesome fish burrito to share, then jump back on the highway. Further down the 5, just after it curves around to hug the ocean, we pull off at Vista Point.
Up on the flat top of a hill, jutting out towards the ocean, Vista Point is one of my favorite spots. Seagulls flock onto the outcropping of rock, which slopes gently to the ocean, sea grasses and rocks dotting the way down. I have passed this way many times at important crossroads in my life and have made decisions standing looking out over the ocean. Visiting here gives me perspective on these choices, the memory of my passages, my milestones.
Once we arrive, they want us to try a new sushi restaurant, Jump Tokyo, where the sushi chef's warmth is palpable, ratcheted up a notch by the free oysters on the half shell topped with ikura. The artistic quality of the food enhances our experience further, and I realize an important truth: done right, there is a spirituality in food - art, worship, even love.
Back at the house, Randy fires up the grill, makes margaritas. Lisa and I catch up while Greg brings our bags in and checks his e-mail. Lisa usually acts as Randy's second-in-command, but deferring to my love of cooking, kindly steps aside all weekend to allow free rein to the "Cooking Cousins" (as Greg nicknamed us years ago). For Lisa, this means a weekend of cleaning up, which to me is an incredible kindness. Yet after dinner, as I watch her scrubbing the countertops until they gleam and making sure every last dish is washed, I suddenly see the purity of her choices, the meditativeness of her efforts, the selflessness of this act. If God's a Catholic, Lisa's going to heaven.
The next afternoon, as Randy and I race back and forth between grill and stove, kitchen and outdoor barbecue oasis, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of love... for my family, for these little tasks that give me so much pleasure. Spirit says "just be." Life is the journey. This weekend, which means nothing in the way of accomplishment or advancement, has given me the priceless opportunity to be, and to enjoy it. I think we'll come again next month.