With a lot of time on my hands this summer, I have been dedicated to a project of clearing out old correspondence from an email account dating back to 2009 through 2014.
It is an emotional process that involves re-reading significant emails, saving some, and permanently deleting most. It requires peering at myself through a softhearted lens from a distant perch: a ten-to-fifteen-year distance.
Current day, I am in my early thirties, but I have already done a lot of rich, intense, vivid living. The intensity of my life is due in part to my childhood circumstances and its impacts, my innate disposition, and my long-standing desire to live a meaningful life.
I have not shied away from big experiences. One of my biggest adventures was to move from my small hometown of De Pere, Wisconsin to Amsterdam, the Netherlands when I was 19 years old. I was to be a live-in nanny for a Turkish family.
That same year, 2009, before moving to Europe, I met a young man named Billy in our hometown. He joined the staff at Pasquale’s, a restaurant where I served tables and he cooked. Our connection was instant, and our friendship persisted across the span of a few years and—in the beginning—the Atlantic Ocean. At 24, he was five years older than me and one of the kindest souls I had ever met.
Though Billy holds a special place in my heart, we lost touch a decade or so ago. And this morning, a warm July day in 2022, coffee in hand, prepared to dedicate an hour to my email-clearing project, I came across the folder in my old account, titled simply: Billy.
It was time for another trip down memory lane.
Billy and I shared a series of intimate emails that year I lived in Amsterdam, while he held down the fort in our hometown. The scent of teenage angst and a great deal of psychological turbulence emanated from my side of the exchange, but he—good soul that he was—received me graciously, email upon email, and encouraged my writing, my expressing, and our connecting.
One of his emails, dated April 2010, presented the very grounding question: “What is Delaney’s world like at this very second?” to which I replied, “At this very second I’m eating a very Mediterranean sandwich, complete with feta cheese, olives, green pepper and tomato, stuffed inside a fatty bun. I’m starting to understand why my ass and thighs are looking like feta cheese— because I eat these damn sandwiches all the time.”
Halt! You don’t recognize this type of shameless discourse from the presently very ladylike Delaney? I warned you—it was a wild state of existence for me those days.
Without further ado…
The Meaningful Mediterranean Sandwich
- sourdough baguette, cleaved and toasted
- feta cheese, sliced off the block
- Roma tomato, sliced
- green (or any) bell pepper, sliced
- Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- balsamic vinegar, drizzled over the toasted baguette (optional)
The burnt sourdough (evident in my photo) was unintentional. Crank that toaster down a notch!
Regarding the balsamic vinegar, this was my experimental addition today, and frankly it was not needed. It gave tanginess to the sandwich, but I felt it competed with the feta, which is the essence of this sandwich. The feta is the central flavor here.
The Ögretmen family introduced me to this sandwich the year I nannied for them in their high-rise apartment in Amsterdam. I often prepared it for their lunches, and, for me, it was a simple, delicious bite when I needed sustenance.
Beyond that, this sandwich is meaningful because it represents the nourishing lightness and everyday type of pleasure that I did occasionally experience that year overseas. It now comes to represent the emails with Billy, too. Though I wrote to Billy of the anxiety in my mind and the heaviness in my heart, I am glad I wrote to him of this sandwich, too.
He prompted me to report on what I was doing “at this very second,” and, despite the general tumult of my being at the time, what I was doing in that instant was a most neutral and essential of human experiences; I was eating a sandwich.
It means that despite the big experiences and the big feelings about life, it is the humble activities that actually sustain us.
In keeping with this sentiment, Billy wrote to me a few years later, December 2012, after our lives had both shifted again in ways big and small: “Happiness is in books and in education and in independence but I believe most of all it is in all of the little things. Most of our little lives are made up of little days full of little things and you might as well enjoy em.”
May we toast to that.