Prose in a Glass: Unanticipated and Joyful

A few weeks ago I wrote about a poem by Mary Oliver called “Praying” that I immediately fell in love with because of its simplicity, and because it focused on cultivating mindfulness and creating stillness. I wanted to know more, and so I read lots of her poetry and learned as much as I could about her life. I discovered a book that she’d written called Our World, a tribute to her partner of 40 years, Molly Malone Cook, and their life together in Provincetown. The book combines Oliver’s prose and poetry with Cook’s photographs and a few excerpts from her journals. I found the book to be stunning, and I felt as though it honored the love that they shared in a simple, yet profoundly moving way. There is a line in it when Oliver talks about meeting Cook for the first time that I particularly loved: “Isn’t it wonderful the way the world holds both the deeply serious, and the unexpected mirthful?” This line caused me to feel an abundance of warm and fuzzies, but I admit to struggling just a bit with its syntax. Did she intend to write “unexpectedly mirthful?” That’s doubtful, and downright funny, since Mary Oliver writes with incredible precision and intention. What exactly does she mean then by “unexpected mirthful?” Matters such as these might go unsolved forever, but I am fortunate enough to have a daughter who loves words, and books, and the ideas they represent as much as I do. I called her to consult.

Let’s talk about the deeply serious moments in our lives first. We all know what they are. They are the instances that stop us in our tracks, that render us speechless under their weight, that bring us to our knees as our hearts fill with wonder, or sadness, or gratitude. We see them as life-changing, and they often become the milestones by which we measure ourselves. To say that something is “unexpectedly mirthful” is also fairly easy to define. That would be a moment or an experience in which we did not expect to find joy, but there it was. To get down to syntax, “unexpectably” is the adverb that modifies “mirthful,” so it describes the particular kind of joy that we might find in a place or under circumstances that are notoriously unpleasant, like at the New Jersey DMV. However, to say that life contains the “unexpected mirthful” is an entirely different thing. These are the joy-filled moments that unlike graduations, or weddings, or babies, were not anticipated, and may have even started out as very small, until the realization hit us that they were anything but. In Mary Oliver’s case, what began as the instant where she “took one look and fell, hook and tumble” for Molly Malone Cook ended up as a 40-year commitment. It seems to me then, that the most important word in the quote that I shared may be “both.” As humans, we inherently struggle with the idea that the unexpected and happy aspects of life may be profound enough to change us, and so we look for reasons to downplay them for ourselves and for others. Loss, longing, and loneliness remain the human conditions, and we gravitate towards seeing them as the best authors of the most important chapters in our lives. Even when we allow happiness, it has to be planned in order for it to carry weight. Otherwise we tend to see it as juvenile. This remains the mantra for so many of us, until the moment we realize that it no longer needs to be true. The unanticipated and joyful can write our stories just as well.

For today’s cocktail, I created a riff on a Whiskey Daisy that I’d made two years ago for a holiday event. It contained rye whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, muddled citrus, and simple syrup. I decided to change my base to Cali Distillery’s Riptide because it’s a cask strength rye whose weight would definitely bring a deeply serious element to this drink. I kept the Yellow Chartreuse and the simple syrup, but I added equal parts of Key lime, Mandarin orange, and Meyer lemon, three citrus juices that added a bit of unexpected joy. Finally, I topped things off with a ginger bao, a traditional Asian “broth” that blends ginger, lemon, honey and ginseng. A total surprise? For me too! It’s a wonderfully healing drink, bottled by a company called Mr. Mak’s that I found at my local MOM’s Organic Market. It’s worth seeking out. I loved this cocktail for both its potent and refreshing taste, and for the fact that it was serious, joyful, and surprising all at once. I found it to be a perfect representation of Mary Oliver’s life-changing moment. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!

Unanticipated and Joyful

1½ oz Cali Distillery Riptide Cask Strength Rye
½ oz Yellow Chartreuse
¾ oz simple syrup
¼ oz Key lime juice
¼ oz Meyer lemon juice
¼ oz Mandarin orange juice
2 oz Mr. Mak’s Ginbao

Add all the ingredients except the ginbao to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a tall Collins glass over fresh ice and top with the ginbao. Garnish with cherries and Key lime slices. Enjoy!

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