"Six Ounces."

A small acknowledgment.

MARCH 2—Six ounces of concentrated puree bursting with complex umami flavor: One can of rich, red tomato paste packs a culinary wallop. In any dish, a little goes a long way.

During the winter of 2019, I kept a cheerful can of tomato paste within easy reach, on a shelf in my bedroom. I don’t recall the brand, but a very long way it took me. It was the first object I used for arm exercises when I began my slow recovery from ME/CFS.

I started with curls: Five exhilarating and exhausting repetitions each arm. Few would believe the joy and pride I felt, when, finally, I graduated to a one-pound dumbbell. It took nearly two months to get there. But at last! A real weight! What a delight it was to carry that can back to the pantry.

From six ounces to weights of one pound, then two, three, five. Now, over two years later, I’m curling seven. Every advance has been cause for celebration—and bragging. Every slow gain has meant increased independence and freedom. I can once again lift a grocery bag, heft a heavy cast iron skillet, haul out the trash.

Never discount the small.

One gray Seattle afternoon, many years ago now, the warm smile of a stranger, encountered in passing on a quiet street, altered the trajectory of a day on which I’d been contemplating suicide. It put the tiniest of smiles on my own face—altering my brain chemistry in the process—and left me with hope, and a renewed sense of connection with others. Amazing grace.

Call it a cliché: It’s the small things that matter, the small things that can change a life, and in time add up to something consequential.

Ah—the miracle of tomato paste.

The power of a smile.


Note: Umami is one of five basic tastes, which include sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. A Japanese word, it means essence of deliciousness, and is best described as savory.