Festivals of Particularity
Investing the ordinary with gravity by linking it to persons
It’s a sick day for one of our girls, so I wanted to share two recent essays I really enjoyed on loving things in their particularity, not according to their merits on some absolute scale.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, he talks through the four classical types of love: storge, philia, eros, and caritas, and storge was the one I’d never really seen discussed (let alone praised) before. You could translate it as fondness, and it’s easy for that to sound trivial or sentimental.
One way I think about storge if that it’s the kind of love you have for that one particular tree that sits three blocks from your house and marks the turn onto your street. It’s not that that tree is the tallest or most beautiful—it might not even be your favorite kind of tree in general—but it is your tree in a way no other tree is.
And cultivating fondness and valuing it as a real kind of love is a good inoculation against, well, this:
If every loving relationship is a meritocratic relationship, it is necessarily fragile. A foundation of slow-growing storge is part of how we become stickers, without forfeiting our judgement.
My children, the last four of whom were born in Pennsylvania, could pass through a gate in our back fence and walk to the library or the playground without crossing a street. The anniversary of the day we moved into our house—August 30—we pronounced “Stickers’ Day,” and celebrated it with dinner in the back yard, followed by the telling of stories or a game of catch or freeze tag. In this, we quietly honored the work of William Stafford and Wendell Berry, who admonish Americans to be “stickers,” to settle in a place and stick, rather than “boomers,” always on the move and chasing the next boom.
Notably, Pennsylvania is not where he wants to be a sticker (the essay is titled “Sweet Land of Michigan” and he ultimately finds his way back to his longed for home). But while Pennsylvania is his, he regards himself as Pennsylvania’s and forms his family’s life accordingly.
After reading the essay, my husband and I marked our calendar for our first celebration of Stickers’ Day (also in August), and we’ll have to come up with what it looks like this summer. (I’d be amused by cooking at least one sticky food).
Stickers’ storge love can come out in the smallest things. In(a substack I’ve been enjoying), tells the story of his grandma’s unexpected memorial:
Each year at Thanksgiving, my family eats a special roll that is spiraled and buttery. In the family cookbook, they’re called “refrigerator rolls” because the recipe calls for making the dough one day then storing it in the fridge overnight before baking.
But in recent years, I’ve noticed that some of us have started using a different name: “Grandma Maxwell Rolls,” after the grandma who originated the recipe.
I’m not sure why this change happened, but the unexpected result is that Grandma Maxwell is now among the most-mentioned deceased members of my family. Just this holiday season, I probably told my kids five different times about going to Grandma’s house and having the same roles that we still make today. I don’t think anyone intended for this to happen, but with a name like “Grandma Maxwell Rolls,” stories naturally come up.
I love this story, and it’s a good reminder we may be remembered longest not for our best or worst qualities but simply for our repeated actions, which become part of the texture of someone else’s life.
We like to name dishes in our house (a garlic and walnut pasta we made up on Ascension Day is now always Ascension Pasta, no matter when we eat it; this Smitten Kitchen dish is “St. Joseph’s One-Pan Miracle” for similar reasons). It gives the dish echoes, leading us to think about our past and future of eating together.