DO THE THING THAT YOU CAN DO

My grandmother, Ma, can’t go to church anymore. She’s doing pretty well, don’t get me wrong. She’s ninety-two, and still lives alone, and still drives short distances to get her groceries, and is sharp as a tack. But walking long distances is harder, and the church hasn’t figured out their parking very well, and the weather is often a mess where she lives, and the eighty-six year old man who was secretly in love with her and who always waited for her in the pew they shared died last year.

So church is out.

But she’s okay with this. She went to church her whole life, and she understands that church, like her bridge group or her shoulder mobility, wasn’t meant to last forever. But what she learned at church was. At least that’s the way she says it.

Instead of going to church, Ma bakes cakes.

Not a lot and not too often. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to make a big old cake when you live alone. But sometimes she does.

One day last fall she got out all the ingredients. It took a while, of course. She pulled out the stool to reach the top shelf in her spotless kitchen. And then, again and again, she got up on the stool, and held on to the cupboard with one hand, and with the other pulled down what she needed to make the apple cake. And when it was done, after she’d put the final touches of powdered sugar all over the top, she sighed.

And then she began cutting. Because, of course, there’s no way she could eat the whole cake. It would be hard for her to eat an entire piece, if we’re being honest. So first she cut a big hunk and gave it to the Russian woman next door. And then she gave another hunk to the caretaker of the man who lives below her. And then she called up her other downstairs neighbor, the squirrely one, the ex-teacher who is in her seventies but sometimes looks decades older.

And Ma said to her over the phone, “I’d like to bring you some cake.” But this neighbor wasn’t so sure.

“Well, what’s in it?” she asked, skeptically.

And so Ma explained. It has apple and flour and lots of sugar and some vanilla and some cinnamon and some nutmeg and some powdered sugar, and the list went on. The neighbor agreed, begrudgingly, and so Ma wrapped up the piece of cake and carried it down to her.

And then Ma came home, closed the door, and sat down to eat her own piece. She’d spent all day baking, had given away all but this one piece, and was now ready to enjoy it.

And then the phone rang again. It was the neighbor, that squirrely one, the one who never seems to have enough visitors and always seems to be anxious about something.

The one who wasn’t so sure about that cake.

“Can you bring me more of that cake?” she asked abruptly. No greeting. No thanks.

Ma looked at her last piece, the piece she hadn’t yet cut into, and she shook her head. And she took it downstairs. Because she can’t go to church, she says, but she can do this.

As for me, I cannot cook. I cannot play football. I cannot wash a window well, or parallel park on a hill, or give you directions to most anyplace, anywhere. There is a whole long list of things I cannot do.

But there are things I can do. A lot of them. And you’ve got a whole list of your own.

The point of a life, no matter where you in it, is to do the thing that you can do, today. The thing that will help you and will help someone else and will make it a little brighter all around.

This is the way we change a world.

*Excerpt from The Better Life ©2015 Claire Diaz-Ortiz (Moody Publishers). Used with permission. All rights reserved.