My Ikigai


What is an ikigai? Roughly translated from Japanese, it’s a “reason for being.” Some people explain it with a diagram of four intersecting circles: your values,  things you like to do,  things you’re good at, and what the world needs. The convergence of those things is your ikigai.

For me, it’s writing. Writing is the thing that can get me out of bed in the middle of the night because I simply must do it. Anne Lamott says the key to writing is keeping your “butt in the chair.” That’s not a problem for me. My problem is getting my butt out of the chair!

And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I may think about is rewriting what I’ve written. It’s a self-imposed challenge to get a piece perfect. Of course it’s an impossible task, so I’ve learned to “cut bait” and move on. But I do love the process.

Another thing Anne Lamott says about writing is, “Every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I love that. And I can think of plenty of stories about people in my life who “should have behaved better.” But those are for another time.

Today is not a good day for a sad story. Today, in honor of France and all they’re going through with COVID-19, I’m going to write about a French stranger who was kind to me last May, while we were traveling the country.

Gene and I were staying in a little hotel right on the Place de L’Horloge in Avignon’s city center. He was in bed with a bad cold, so I offered to go find dinner to-go. Across the Place is a gigantic “food court,” a line of outdoor cafes, with men in front of each one hawking their wares. There are large poster menus on easels in front of each restaurant.

I found a menu that had soup, and asked if I could get it “to-go” because my husband was sick in bed. The man said, “I’m sorry, madame,  we only can package hamburgers and pizza to-go. I said, “Thank-you anyway,” and turned to leave. He said, “Wait, madame. Where are you staying?” “Across the Place at Hotel De H’horloge,” I answered. “Well, Madame,” he said, “if you can wait about 20 minutes, we will fix a tray for you, and if you will please bring it back, you may take it to your husband.”

I ordered minestrone, caprese, and lasagna, paid, and sat down to wait. In about 20 minutes, out comes my lovely man, who’s about 5′ 8″, carrying a gigantic tray covered with a white linen cloth. He lowers the tray, uncovers it, and shows me crocks of hot soup and lasagna, a plate of caprese, dinner plates, cloth napkins, silverware, and little salt and pepper shakers. I stand up, he looks at me, and waves over a tall waiter, explaining to him in French that he needs to follow me to my hotel room with the tray.

Off we go across the Place, into the hotel, up the tiny lift, and across the hall to our room. I knock on the door and Gene answers, expecting me with a ham sandwich. Instead, here we are with a huge tray of food, which the waiter proceeds to set out on our desk, as if it’s a dining room table. I thank him politely, give him a tip, and away he goes.

Gene and I stand there, eyes wide open in disbelief. We put towels on the bed, plate our beautiful meal, and begin to eat. Five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the waiter. “Pardon, Madame,” he says. “We forgot the bread!”  With that, he hands me a basket of bread and disappears. You see, in France you would never think of serving a meal without bread.