It is Shrove Tuesday and in England that means pancakes. Not, you will understand, those heart-warming American delights, nor the elegance of French crepes, but ‘proper’ pancakes. For my sons, following in the tradition of the family that has spanned generations… several of which made pancakes for me as a child… it involves Mum armed with a hot frying pan, presiding over a conveyor belt effect of ‘next one’s ready’ and ‘how many more can you eat?’.
In the typical Pancake Day scenario, in our family at least, Mum makes up a huge batch of batter to feed the family. She spends the next hour cooking and deftly tossing pancakes for everyone else, ending up with usually too little batter left for herself. And having cooked so many for so long, really, the desire has all but gone. Just to add to it, she then usually eats alone in the kitchen before washing the dishes.
My eldest son and I have pancakes on the menu for lunch. It was a convoluted journey to achieve that goal, as he watches his diet closely and eats more healthily than anyone I know. Pancakes, oozing sugar, cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be counted as healthy. But he managed it with a little judicious sophistry and in a spirit of true self-sacrifice, deciding that it was the only way he could guarantee I would have pancakes myself and, indeed, actually eat today.
Pancakes and sacrifice go hand in hand. I wonder these days if the majority of youngsters, rolling them up and licking the lemon and sugar as it drips, know about the origins of the tradition… using up the rich foods like eggs and butter on the day before the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it was a day to confess one’s sins and be shriven… hence the name of the day… and prepare for the time of sacrifice to come.
I have often thought how the role of the cook on Pancake Day echoes the tradition behind it. Yet there is a deeper level to sacrifice, however, than merely giving up the odd luxury or a little time and effort. We see it in action all the time, though it often goes unnoticed or unrecognised, because the very nature of true sacrifice is that it is done quietly with no thought of gain or praise. When we genuinely put the good or well-being of someone or something before our own there is no thought of self. Yet in doing so, we gain something far more precious than that which we give up.
Sophistry can come up quite a lot where sacrifice is concerned. We can be very good at it where our own desires and wishes get in the way of loving sacrifice, reasoning and arguing with ourselves against the prompting of the heart. And it is often these inner whispers that are behind our moments of greatest beauty. There are opportunities in every life where we have a chance to do something simply and cease to think of anything other than the moment.
History and theology are peopled with those who have given their lives or their lifetimes to a belief, or an ideal. These are the ones we see as saints, or the movers and shakers of humanity… the ones whose passion made a difference on a global scale. Yet in every street, every day, small sacrifices are made. I call them ‘small’ only in comparison to those that visibly affect the whole of humanity. To each of those benefiting from them, they can make a world of difference, and the ‘cost’ to those making them is the same. They are giving something of themselves. And they are doing it with love.
Whether these sacrifices are inspired by their love for an individual, an ideal or their God, love is the common thread that binds them. And I have a feeling that these seemingly small, quiet sacrifices do affect humanity on a global scale, radiating unseen, but not unfelt, through our lives and perhaps the evolution of our race as a whole.
It is an odd thing, but a beautiful one, that true sacrifice, as with love given freely from which, I think, it stems, demands nothing in return. Not acknowledgement, nor praise, nor the return of what is offered. Yet it breaks all the rules of supply and demand, for the more we give away, the more we have to give.