So I ran across this blog post, in which the author's neighbor leaves, on her doorstep, a perfect slice of torte. You eye the layers, the crumb, the frosting. There's a fork, thoughtfully tucked behind the bulk of the cake, and a note. In return, the author leaves her neighbor jam, a pint of olive oil, a single flower, a handful of seeds.
I don't know why this seizes me like it does. Because it does seize me, in the sense of causing, in my thoughts, a hitch. I stop in the middle of what I'm doing. I rein in my breath. I consider.
We give to each other innumerable gifts. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Mothers' Day, heck, even Administrative Professionals' Day. I enjoy mailing off my packages to mark these days, and I enjoy -OK, more like lick the postman in an excess of enthusiasm- the packages I get in return. Yet, there's always a sense of doubled purpose. You must please your recipient, yes, but you're also trying to appease the great dark God of expectation. It's as if we've erected a totem, a pillar around which, deprived of the good ol' bogeys of famine, fire, drought, and trampling by wildebeest, we dance our craven little dance.
There's something more primitive about the cake on the doorstep, and more personal. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, but also: We are connected. Or simply: I thought of you. It's powerful to know there's someone out there thinking of you; it makes you, somehow, more real. Equally powerful: to have something tasty, to give your neighbor a piece.
All of which is really my way of soliciting cake. Anytime, people! My doorstep is always open! I mean, free of other cakes! Because I will have already eaten them! Right.