A World Running On Empty


I had something happen recently that sums up what I often experience in our world of “convenience” with its emphasis on ease and the perfection of appearance. For my father-in-law’s birthday dinner, we had purchased a cake from Whole Foods. I was looking forward to it. But after eating a meal I felt deeply nourished by, I can only say I felt starved by the perfect looking little cake.

So starved, in fact, that I went back for seconds. Some part of me desperately believing that more of nothing would somehow magically bring me something.

It took me days to figure out what had happened. Despite the cake’s perfectly formed shape and the bullet proof container it came in… Despite the perfect little edging and the personalized lettering… Despite the “convenience” of not needing to bake it myself… It was empty. Empty of a taste that satisfied. Empty of sustenance. Empty of care.

That “little”cake has become a recent and poignant symbol for me of the emptiness that has crept into our daily existence.

Here’s what I mean:

Despite the rich assortment of ways we can be in touch with one another, the full and satisfying feeling of being in connection with others is ever absent and in its stead, a ghostly emptiness between us has grown as we draw back from the reality of relationships in real time.

Despite all the “choices” we have now when it comes to what we can eat, we have never had more food-like substances that leave us both over-fed in our attempts to make up for what is lacking, while simultaneously being under-nourished by all the empty calories.

Despite all the “advances” medicine is daily bringing to us in terms of the technologies, our interactions with our healing practitioners are too often characterized by an emptiness of care, time and attention.

Despite all the information we now have at our fingertips, our capacity for original thought is increasingly empty of critical thinking, tempered opinions and a desire to interact in lively and necessary debate.

Despite all the ways that AI can help us write an email, edit copy, write an article or (god forbid) a book, we have never been emptier when it comes to the  power of the word to heal, communicate, transform and inform.

Beyond the empty nature of the cake itself was the contrast I felt that night between it and the meal I had eaten. So much thought and planning had gone into the dinner. And because the family is blessed with many skilled cooks who can also work together quite well in one kitchen, there was a spirit of collaboration and love built into the food. Along with lots and lots of care.

That’s it. Both care and love were decidedly absent from the perfect little Whole Foods cake.

I have decided the supposed convenience of that perfect little cake is not worth the price of an empty experience. That it doesn’t even deserve to be in the same room as a well tended to meal. Going forward, I think I am going to learn how to bake birthday cakes. The kind that takes into consideration not just the preference for what kind of cake and frosting the person wants, but also for all of the dietary restrictions in the family.

Maybe it will be a bust. Maybe the frosting will get dinged up in transit without that perfect little container. Maybe it will be lop-sided and messy. But at least it won’t be empty of what matters most. Lots of care and love.

Because here’s the thing. What’s going to happen when we no longer have the substantial, essential and nourishing things in life still around to offer us a comparison of what empty looks and feels like. Will the generations to come, and even the ones here now, do what I did? Continue to go back to what is empty, hoping that somehow they will feel fed?