When my father died, I became the morning biscuit maker at a fast-food restaurant. It was December and I had completed all the requirements for my college degree. I would graduate in June and I needed a job. It was incredible to those closest to me that I chose that particular job. Food service, dietary planning, culinary arts—none of those had any connection whatsoever with the history and folklore and archaeology I had studied in college. Working in any kind of restaurant, whether fast-food, commercial kitchen, or fine-dining establishment, had not been among my post-college plans. But a death in the family can have unexpected consequences. My father’s death was a shock, a surprise, one of those didn’t-see-it-coming events that can knock us for a loop. I was lost.
And did I find myself in the kitchen of that fast-food restaurant? Did I discover that life, like a batch of biscuits, depends on what you put into it, how well you use the ingredients you’re given, how carefully you follow the recipe? No. This story doesn’t have a neat little conclusion. It doesn’t contain all the answers, and maybe not even any answers at all. Did I learn anything from this detour I took on the path my life was “supposedly supposed” to take? Maybe. Was it deep, or profound, or life-changing? Probably not.
You see, I am not sure what the significance of that time in my life was. It didn’t last for long. I didn’t form friendships with the people at work. I don’t remember their names. My job was so specialized that I arrived alone, at least an hour before the other workers, letting myself into the building and locking the door behind me, to start my preparations for dozens of biscuits, made from scratch, mixed and kneaded and rolled and cut into circles with my own hands. I worked in a different area of the kitchen, unable to see or even hear my co-workers. It didn’t bother me. When the day’s biscuits were done I turned to my other responsibilities. I made blueberry muffins, from scratch, and chocolate chip cookies, from a mix. That was it. I had three tasks to do, spaced out with careful precision, over the course of my shift, so that biscuits and muffins were hot and fresh for the morning crowd and chocolate chip cookies were ready and waiting for lunch and dinner.
It is gratifying to take raw ingredients that bear no resemblance to the finished product and change them, transforming them into something completely different. No one would want to consume most of the ingredients I used on their own, but when mixed together and baked, they became delicious comfort foods that many people like to eat. A clever person would point out that God does the same thing with us. He created man from the dust, something that bears no resemblance to the finished product (or work in progress) of the human race. And as God works on us, each according to His plan, we are changed into something different, something better than the sum of our parts. With the grace of God we become what we are meant to be.
There is something about baking, especially the process of mixing, kneading, rolling, and cutting dough, that can be hypnotic, almost therapeutic. One’s hands are busy while one’s mind is free to wander, to think of everything, and nothing. Sometimes my only thought was to count the pressing and turning actions of my hands as they worked the dough. Other times I held circuitous and lengthy conversations with God inside my own head, trying to understand why things happen the way they do. But mostly my mind wandered to the past.
The first time I ever made biscuits I was nine years old and I was in my Nana’s kitchen. We mixed the dough together and she showed me how to knead it, how to roll it, and how to cut it. Little tips and tricks, like how to tell if the dough was rolled to the correct thickness, how to keep it from sticking, the dangers of over-handling the dough, dipping the biscuit cutter in flour before using it, were all passed along to me. It was fun, I was good at it, and it produced results I enjoyed. Maybe, ten years later, with the newspaper want-ads spread out before me, the words morning biscuit maker appealed to me so strongly because I needed all the happy memories I could gather to see me through.
My tenure as morning biscuit maker in that restaurant was not a bad thing, and yet it wasn’t a particularly good thing, either.
Sometimes mundane experiences give us the most profound moments of our lives. But not always. Not everything in life has to be full of meaning. Sometimes things just are, sometimes, as a person, all we can do is be.
Can I tell myself my carefully crafted baked goods made people happy, or fed their souls? Sure, but it seems unlikely, even ridiculous. Did God lead me to that job, at that moment in my life, for His own reasons? Of course. Have I figured out why He chose to do that? No. And I may never know. I assume He was preparing me for whatever was next. I have made plenty of biscuits and blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies since those long ago mornings. When I do, I don’t think about my work in an empty restaurant. I am thinking of my Nana, of her love for me, and the important skills she taught me. Maybe that was the purpose of that detour in my life, that job that people thought was beneath me, to remember, even in the midst of mourning my father, that God is always present, that the love we receive from our families and the lessons they impart to us will always be carried with us. No matter where we are or how many detours we take.