Last Thursday, I walked down the hill to my local pastry shop in search of cake. It was my answer to what to bring to the New Year’s Eve party that would no doubt be filled with delectable delights from people who love food and who love to cook. Unfortunately, I have not been blessed with the “love to cook gene,” so I often find myself searching for the best family owned “pastelaria” with kitchen savvy grandmas I can adopt in times of need. Thankfully, Portugal is the perfect place for such endeavors.
Having never before searched for a New Year’s cake in Portugal, my senses reeled as I walked in the door. I had arrived in cake heaven. The glass counter was stacked with all sorts of cake boxes - the large round Pão de Ló (Sponge Cake), the colorful Bolo Rei (King Cake), the mysterious Bolo Rainha (Queen Cake), and the over-the-top Bolo Tronco de Natal (Yule Log Cake). As I inspected the counter, the line began to grow with fellow cake lovers of all shapes and sizes: the tall, grey distinguished man in front of me, and the half-my-size grandma adopting grandma behind me.
As I waited for my turn, I silently practiced placing my order in Portuguese while turning over the cake options in my mind. Did I want the ostentatious chocolate covered yule log with wood-mimicking spirals on the ends and a tiny plastic champagne bottle nestled on top? Or should I go for the more elegant, deceivingly monochromatic Queen Cake that says, “I may look bland, but I will rock your world.” Clearly I needed to get both.
Now that this crucial decision had been made, I was able to take in the bustle of the café. This was a second home to most of the people there and I became more aware of the contrast that I represented. I did not grow up in this neighborhood, nor do I stop in every morning for an espresso and a Pastel de Nata (Custard Tart). I was up next, and with a bit of novice evident in my voice, I successfully placed my order. And then something unexpected happened – something that actually did rock my world. With the simple gathering and boxing of my selected cakes, I felt completely embraced by the woman behind the counter. Her essence oozed love. Maybe I’m just grandma starved, but I swear, this wise woman read me like a book and in the span of 30 seconds, seemed to know exactly what I needed. The cake was our excuse to connect – one human being to another – and she was a master. That would have been more than enough to warm me to the bone, but then, unexpectedly, there was a “cherry on top.” As she handed me my change, she gently squeezed my hand as if to say, “You’re ok sweetheart. I’ve got your back.”
In that moment, my world shifted. I was not the outsider. I was not the new kid on the block. I was at home. I was part of this stew of humanity where nationality or language had nothing to do with whether I belonged or not. I belonged simply because I was there – existing in the same human experience at the same moment in time.
It’s easy to see how we are different. We’re constantly comparing as we navigate our way in the world, like a whale using sonar to find its location, unconsciously searching for our place. It’s a hind-brain instinct of not wanting to be alienated from the group, which is perceived as a threat to survival. As Lynne McTaggart discusses in this video clip about her book, "The Bond: How To Fix Your Falling Down World," the way in which we connect with belonging needs to evolve. Our differences are shoved in our faces every day from the political agendas and the conflict we are seeing around the world. Humanity is suffering from a debilitating collective issue of pyscho-spiritual separation. It’s time to tap into our common humanity and all that brings us together.
Wherever you may be sitting as you read this, take a deep breath and feel how we are connected through the air you are breathing. The same sun is shining above us, the same moon illuminating the night sky, our hearts beating in the same sea of life-force. Allow the feeling of belonging to sink deep into your being. It’s the truth of who you really are: interconnected to all that it is.
Thanks for swimming in the same stew with me, and may every day be blessed with your awkward but heart opening cake-buying moments.