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in praise of all things sweet

Blessed be the first bite of birthday cake. Hallowed be that moment, long before the gears of memory began to turn, when I learned that Sweet could eclipse mashed pears and mother’s milk. Did I learn the way Lydia did, encircled by family, smearing frosting on my flawless face? No matter. Blessed be that day.

lydia tries cake

O give thanks for the See’s candy that Gannie and Grandpa sent each year, shrouded in its red gift-wrap until Christmas Eve. Let us recall how we bickered over whose turn it was to eat the scotchmallows. May we give thanks for our mother and her attempts at boundaries: one piece a day, she’d say. Somehow the two-pound box would be empty by New Year’s.

the hallowed box

Praise be to God for the candy bars we pined after at Long’s drugstore. “There’s a sale this week, Mom. Three for a dollar!” Blessed be the age of innocence, before we knew to fear high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and preservatives. A gleaming aisle of Sweet beckoned, and the greatest dilemma was choosing between Twix and M&Ms.

Long's Drugs

Let us celebrate the sugar cookies I made each December, the many-colored frostings divided into tiny Tupperware. Hallowed be the year – age twelve? thirteen? – when I stayed up night after delicious vacation night, sneaking spoonfuls of leftover frosting while reading through the Anne of Green Gables books. How quiet the house became as everyone else fell asleep. Just the faraway murmur of the ocean and my own whispered voice, savoring Anne’s dialogue between licks of butter-and-confectioner’s-sugar dyed artificial purple.

Anne of the Island, my favorite in the Anne series

Blessed be the frozen yogurt Mom and I shared when I faltered beneath the weight of school or friendships or the role I didn’t land. How sweet to forgo lunch in favor of chocolate-vanilla swirl with Heath bar on top. Hallowed be the outings we didn’t divulge to the boys.

Mom and I in Florida a few years back

O give thanks for the Snackwell’s devil’s food cookies I ate in college, three for 100 calories. May I not forget the years I spent counting grams of fat and minutes of cardio, the mental space cluttered by diet tips and self-flagellation. May I humbly recall the many pounds I shed and regathered in pursuit of Perfect.

Snackwell's cookies

Blessed be my hunger for all things sweet, the desire that could not be starved or disciplined or bullied away. O give thanks for this belly, its supple flesh sullied only by my loathing. Praise be to God for the day Truth came unbidden to my mind: When you are ready to stop hiding, you will no longer eat more than you need. Blessed be the day the words came, and blessed be the slow journey toward their fulfillment.

Sweetness can be a place to hide, an ever-present help in time of trouble. Anger, sorrow, disillusionment, and boredom: all the things I didn’t know how to feel waited at arm’s length while Sweet was on my tongue. The attendant Shame could be a hiding place, too, a shanty outside Sweet’s palace.

Little did I know that I wanted more out of life than sweetness. Marge Piercy writes,

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
good old Marge Piercy

Thank God for the desires that Sweet could not satisfy. Blessed be the hunger for life itself, for the bounteous buffet of existence.

The day would come when I’d eat Easter dinner and watch children hunting for bright plastic eggs, and I wouldn’t be thinking about dessert. The day would come when the scent of the reawakening soil would satisfy me more than chocolate, when the laughter and sunlight would be enough.

Eliza finds an Easter egg

Blessed be the gentleness we learn over the years, and blessed be the suffering that comes first. Thank God for the moments when I survey the landscape – the joys and the sorrows – and say, This is my life. I wouldn’t ask for anything sweeter.


Note: This entry began as a contemplation on giving up sweets for Lent. Interestingly, the final version doesn’t even mention Lent.

2 thoughts on “in praise of all things sweet”

  1. Beautifully written Hannah. So many ways we try and cover up the feelings; even worse when we use anger or bitterness to hide our hurt. When real awareness dawns it feels so freeing- until we realize awareness itself is just the beginning. Eventually the work becomes a new second nature; its like those old cravings just loose their appeal. And oddly, some things we avoided or were afraid of become not so bad after all!

  2. I especially like your Note at the end – sometimes I set out to write Something In Particular, and it doesn’t end up looking remotely like what I thought it would. Insatiability – ugh, that is something I know a lot about. Beautifully put, Hannah.

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