Bittersweet

Recently, maybe mid-February, I was having dinner somewhere with some friends. I wish that I could say more about the place – the lighting, the decorations hung on the walls, the general atmosphere, the general atmosphere – but none of those things struck me that night. I didn’t notice any particular attention to detail in the folding of the napkins, in the choice of colours (not that it wasn’t there, though.) What did strike me was the dessert: a spongecake, golden brown, topped with coconut shavings dyed green, like a field of grass. Bright strawberries stood blushing at its corners, and in the warm light, you could see their juicy wetness.

As it went round, I tried to start some small talk with the man next to me, resisting looking at the thing, but in between words, my eyes kept darting left, as if drawn by a magnet. I’ve never lived a longer three minutes in my life!

Finally, it arrived. I served a (*ahem) reasonable portion onto my plate. Slowly, I dug in the spoon; the cake gave in under the pressure, I felt its airy softness. Then, the first taste. At once, a warm sweetness filled my mouth – the strawberry’s tartness was a burst of soul and vigour. But underneath it all, whisky’s bitterness rose, full and fiery, engulfing everything. It was so…poetic!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about that dish: bittersweet, and yet the bitterness was so full, so rich! It was like a little slice of life served on a plate…

It’s there in youths thrilled by the brilliant glamour of their dreams of success. For some, the bitterness comes when they take their first few steps and, dismayed at the realisation of the sacrifices they have to make, they falter and fail. Others endure, then encounter setbacks and fall,never quite mustering the strength and courage to get back on their feet. A few make it all the way to the end, but over the years, grow tired of it all, of working aimlessly all their lives, of having all the money they desired, and they begin to wonder what the point of life is if all you do is work for no reason for half your life, then retire, then die and leave all that effort behind… They seek something…fuller to satisfy that inner restlessness.

It’s there in newly-weds burning with ardent passion. At first, their bliss dwarfs all challenges and fears, and before its splendour, pain, sorrow, loneliness, and suffering seem to be just so much dust. But after a few weeks, reality slaps them hard in the face. Frictions that their passion had smoothed over become like sawblades digging deep. Pockets run empty. Stress kicks in. The in-laws enter the mix. They’re overwhelmed by a loss of that (so-called) freedom they used to have… The time has come to let go of the tinsel of good feelings and find that something deeper.

It’s there in Kenya, this country of ours, born of rivers of blood and countless tears, of soaring hope, borne in the memories of our elders and dying in the hearts of so many of her children. The skies in which their hope soared have clouded over, their horizons are veiled, the sun has sunk and in the darkness of corruption, hatred and cold, they fumble for light.

But what makes life’s bitterness full and rich, like whisky?

In the words of a wise priest, “Love is the best reason for doing anything.” Love makes everything worthwhile. Only in forgetting ourselves and thinking about others, about those next to us, in trying to serve them (all of them, even that person you just can’t stand, everyone) do we begin to find happiness.

Yes, life is bittersweet, and in her bitterness, we can find that deeper sweetness.

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