There’s nothing like breakfast at Chaps, right? That’s what we were thinking when we booked the restaurant for our wedding reception, a chance to celebrate with many loved ones after an intimate elopement last fall. After countless texts and calls to the most important people in our lives, my husband and I settled on a date — March 28, 2020.

On March 4, I was at Chaps to finalize the menu — breakfast for dinner, salmon Benedict and as much bacon as we could eat. My mouth watered at the very thought.
click to enlarge A Lesson in Empathy
Young Kwak
Writer Cara Strickland enjoys a meal and glass of wine solo at the Wandering Table.

You know where this is going — our grandparents in California were nervous about flying, and we wanted them there, so we agreed to postpone. Just days later, Gov. Jay Inslee made gatherings like ours a moot point anyway, Chaps, along with so many wonderful local restaurants, closed to the public.

Most people consider a celebration of their marriage to be a highlight of their lives, but for me there was more to it. I’m not just a newlywed, but a new mom as well. Our daughter is 8 months old. I’ve found that the combination of a challenging pregnancy, life with a young baby, and my work-from-home lifestyle has walled me off from a lot of meaningful connection. For months I’ve been trying to find a way to claw my way back to friendships and phone calls, even just time in the world, among people. But now, that’s exactly what I can’t do. Instead, I’m staying inside for the greater good — no going to Trader Joe’s just to chat with the workers. My parents are self-quarantining, making it impossible for me to go cry with them, or take my daughter over for our usual few hours so I can have uninterrupted time to work.

The day I finalized the menu at Chaps, I met a friend for dinner at Rut. We worried about whether to share a bite of food or sips of a cocktail as we always did — a move that seems insane now. It was my second time out with a friend that week, and we did brunch with another couple and their son that weekend. The following week, I had regular every-other-week pizza with a friend and her tiny baby at Republic Pi, wondering if the dining room seemed emptier than usual. It was the most social I’d managed to be since my baby was born, and I was exhausted at the end of it, but my spirits were higher than they had been in months. Now, I think of that week as my own, perhaps unconscious, attempts to hoard human contact the way some people are hoarding paper products.

But it isn’t just that I want to go out to be with people, though that’s a huge part of it. I want to have places to go to. I make a living as a writer, specializing in food and drink with a little travel thrown in for good measure. I spend my days talking to the most generous, friendly, and, often, financially precarious people. Bartenders, waitstaff, chefs and cooks. I worry about them and the safety nets I know they don’t have. I worry, too, about the stories I’m losing, the magazines who are choosing not to publish their next issue, the checks that are no longer in the mail. I’m vacillating between wanting to order takeout from everywhere offering it, and wondering how long my savings is going to last.

In any other time, any one of these things would feel devastating, too much. But in this moment, it all feels small in the face of serious loss, sickness and death. Recently, I was chatting with a friend online about the small and the big when I stumbled upon a thought — maybe empathy isn’t just something we have for other people, maybe it’s also something we have for ourselves. I am not the only one grieving big things that feel small, and there is so much that we’re going to have to grieve in the days ahead. It is not selfish to attend to pain that just happens to be mine. ♦

There are lots of ways to support local restaurants, but two local ones include donations to Big Table, and this Go Fund Me.

Cara Strickland is a freelance writer specializing in food and drink. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, Southwest, Time Out, Atlas Obscura, JSTOR Daily, the Rumpus and others. Connect with her further at

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