Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Night Soup

After a few crazy weeks, I am so very happy to spend a Friday night in with Pioneer Woman’s Tortilla Soup and a Christmas movie marathon. Whoever said Netflix and chill means something other than sitting, eating, and watching TV is crazy because its literal interpretation is about the best thing going. And, I also love a good soup during the winter months. And this tortilla soup is just about the best tortilla soup I have ever had.

I love to cook, but, I am not a baker, even though I like baking. I can make a decent carrot cake or chocolate cake, but baking isn't really my thing. I only learned to follow the well-written rules even though I was never, ever good at math and chemistry and physics. I don't fancy these particular subjects, not just because I am a natural blond who loves her skinny jeans and boots, but because I can’t even handle their exactness. My mom, the ever-feminist lover and daughter supporter, expressed her irritation with my I suck at math sentiment. And then, a few days later, I asked her a simple math question and she said, “Wow, you aren’t really good at math are you?”. 

No, I am not good at math. I am not even embarrassed about it. I am me. It’s not that I don’t like structure and rules. Even cooking has a few necessities like, a good knife helps more than you can imagine, a really good dutch oven saves time, a fantastic stainless steel pan will heal the world, and it's best not to add the garlic until the last minute because it burns and tastes like bark on a tree. But, I must admit, like cooking, I prefer subjects and people and the human condition that allow for the almost bad bell peppers who end up making the soup even better in the end and the too much onion that, secretly, makes the soup its best. Oh, and if you cook the veggies a little too long...they are even better. Julia Child once said, about cooking, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Like Julia Child, perfection and exact chemistry are not my goals. Even though I greatly admire the chemists and the exact people. They are impressive, that's for sure. They heal us, find cures to heal our diseases, and they suture our wounds. However, making stuff out of the rotten, the discarded, and the forgotten - this is my goal. Like tonight, as we were so far into, A Family Stone, I paused from cooking, wooden spoon in hand, and stopped to watch my favorite part of the movie. That part when the Luke Wilson character says, "You have a freak flag. You just don't fly it."

And just as I teared up when Luke's cute face said this cute line, I realized I forgot to add the tomato paste to the soup...I didn’t need to stress. I just added it. I let the soup cook just that much longer and, while the soup simmered, I watched the tearful, yet heart-filled end of my favorite holiday movie. 

Allow the passing of time or don't. Get rid of most of the rules, except the ones you need. Adhere to your own version of creativity. Teach yourself. And enjoy the end result. We all matter...even the bakers and mathematicians..because they teach us the rules we choose to follow or choose not to follow. We need the rule makers and the non-rule makers. We need all of us. We need the calm and the exciting. We need each other because, together, we make the world go round. Just like soup - all of its ingredients are necessary and the time on the stove, while the soup simmers and marinates, is crucial to it becoming its very best version of itself.

And, by the way, I broke three of these darling glass bowls because I insisted on carrying them myself. And, oh well. Crate and Barrel is open all night long on line. Broken bowls are swept away in favor of a good night in, with a good soup, and favorite movies. That's just me. Perfection is not necessary for this Friday night. And, as my favorite four year old boy says, "The cute lady really makes a good lunch." ...or dinner. (Jack's assessment of Pioneer Woman on Food Network.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The quality of human life on the planet is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions. Forgiveness is the way we mend tears in the social fabric. It is the way we stop our human community from unraveling.”

-Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving

I love to Now is the operative word in this sentence. I didn’t always love to read. Just ask my mom. I learned to love to read. I even know the day and the very evening this love affair with books, finally, and, reluctantly, began. My mom banished me to my bedroom because I needed to finish reading, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I needed to finish reading the novel and write the paper for my ninth grade Honors English Literature class. I think Mrs. Draper knew reading wasn’t my first choice, but I think she, also, knew I loved to write. What Mrs. Draper and my mom knew is that reading is the key to writing. 

I am not the best writer and I don’t really care. Glennon Melton once wrote something like, reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale. This sentiment is one I can agree with, for sure. I love to meditate because I love to breathe. And the path to a fulfilling breath lies in the inhale and the exhale. I love the exhale - the end of the cycle. For me,the inhale takes practice. Neither needs to be perfect or textbook to heal, but, both, the inhale and the exhale need to occur for the breath to be complete. So, reluctantly, I learned to inhale, like I learned to love to read.

Right now, I read Desmond Tutu’s, The Book of Forgiving. Just like my practice to inhale, reading, I, also, practice forgiveness quite a bit in my daily life. I don’t practice forgiveness just because I experience betrayal or injustice or personal failure or doubt. I practice forgiveness because I am human and I need to breathe like every other human. 

I watch the news. I listen to NPR. I read the New York Times. I see the mass shootings and the wars and ISIS. I see the rape of children and the slaughter of communities. I see the mothers holding their babies and I see the babies left in the dumpsters on the side of the road. I hear the lies politicians tell on a daily basis and I see the lies about celebrities on the covers of the magazines. I see the mama who cries because her child lies in hospice and he dies from cancer and she begs for a reason. I see the man who enters the grocery store that cuts me off as I enter, or the teenager who is stalling at the traffic light and holds up everyone from getting where she needs to go. I, also, see the lies and betrayals and hurts in my own life. I see my own face in the mirror, daily, that asks her twenty-one year old self, why oh why did you get on the horse? And I see the face of the thirty-six year old in the mirror, daily, who asks, why oh why haven’t you done more or better with your life?

I really don’t have answers to these why questions. I am a person who doesn’t believe there really ever is an answer to the why. We can beg and plead and pray and cry to learn the lesson. The lesson might exist, but the why really never comes.

The only true answer to our cries lies in forgiveness. It took me a very, very long time to understand what forgiveness really means. I still don’t have the courage or power or level of understanding or articulation to adequately describe its truest meaning or most defining definition. The only thing I know about forgiveness is...but for the grace of God (or whomever) go I. I know we learn to forgive the human, not the inhumane act. We do not need to forget or condone the action, but we do learn to forgive the person. Or as Bishop Tutu writes, "Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation. " 

Once again, we learn to see ourselves in our sister and brother and friend and enemy.
Until we, ourselves, are faced with a situation, whatever this situation may be, we never really, ever know how we will respond. One of my very favorite mentors ever, Eileen Johnston, said after my accident, “I really can't judge parents of a child who is sick or injured. None of us knows how we will respond when one of our own is hurt or in need. Judgement is not necessary in this kind of situation. Understanding is the only option.”

Forgiveness. It’s a hard word and an even harder act. It requires an understanding of interconnectedness that far outweighs right and wrong. Forgiveness requires a faith in oneness. And this kind of faith is really, really hard. If we really want to heal the world and its children and its people, we need to forgive. We need to forgive, starting with the bank teller that hold us up because we think he is slow. We need to forgive the young girl at the stop light who is texting. And, we need to forgive the friend who betrayed us the most.

If we want to heal, we need to forgive. If we want to fix anything in this entire world, we need to forgive. This is not an easy answer to horrific problems. Forgiveness is a muscle that needs major, major work and this muscle cringes in pain as we build it. But, it has to be built. We must tear down the walls of hate and build the walls of forgiveness if we want the pain to stop.

I don’t have any answers when it comes to gun control. I am afraid of the damn sound of the gun. I, surely, don’t have any answers to war or ISIS or child rape. But, I can learn and vow to forgive the small things. I can start right now and, today -on a daily basis- and that’s something. Just like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Love is Not a Victory March

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley 

It is kind of a cold room. A room with four beige walls, a bed with white, stiff sheets, a simple cabinet, and a table on wheels. A girl, twenty one years of age, lies in her hospital bed, and she wears a brace that extends from her lower belly all the way up to her neck. She is not allowed to sit up beyond thirty degrees. Every night, a bearded and long haired boy, also twenty one years of age, walks down the halls of this hospital. He opens the door to this bleak room, walks in, kisses her on the forehead, pulls the nearest chair close to him, and sits next to her bed. He doesn’t say much beyond hello. He doesn’t need to. He, either, loads a CD into the CD player next to her bed, or begins to play the guitar he carries. And as he plays, whatever music he brings, she cries. Just cries. Not only because she is sad, she is sad, very sad, but, because she has a person. A person who takes the time to shut the door that leads to the outside world and sit with her.This person, he allows her to cry. He knows she is broken and there isn’t much he can do to fix it.
And then, the tumultuous years that follow, years filled with illness and depression and more illness and vomiting and surgeries and wounds and fevers so high she can barely focus to see Ina Garten on the television , he still comes to play his music. He doesn’t require anything of her. She just lies there, cold and broken, and he continues to play his music.

This girl was me. This boy was Justin. And even though he bears a striking resemblance to the American depiction of Jesus, earned a Master of Theology degree, and he, too, does good work - he is human and flawed - just like the rest of us. He is a teacher and a student. He likes music festivals, football, and a good beer. But, the most important thing about Justin is, he shows up. He cares about hearts and really, really cares about others. He cared about me when I needed it most. He cared about me when no one else did. He cared to show up and prove to me, that love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.

One of the songs, in his guitar playing repertoire, was always the Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah. Always. And every time he played this song for me, I always heard the words - And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch And love is not a victory march It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah. And, man oh man, was I broken. My body was shattered, my mouth was very well practiced at setting forest fires, and my cries could tear down the strongest of wailing walls. 

I wasn’t sure what these words, love is not a victory march, It's a cold and broken Hallelujah, really meant. For a long time, I lived stuck in the fantasy that love looks like Hollywood movies or fairy tales or the end of a great novel. I thought love was supposed to be easy and fun and whole and bright and shiny and never broken. And thank the universe or the lord or Justin or Jesus - but I, finally, learned love isn’t any of these things. It's all of these things and more. It's everything. Our worst and our best. 
Great authors and poets and philosophers and songwriters go to great lengths to describe love. Love is even divided into categories and types. Love is ranked, one type above the other, or love is said to claim difference to one love over the other. We hear that love isn’t attachment, possession, or adoration, or appreciation. We hear it isn’t controlling, or angry, or deceitful. We hear it is kind and honest and free of judgement. We hear it is simple and complicated - all at the same time. And because it is such a mystery and deemed such an unattainable and enlightened goal, we chase after it at all costs. We sacrifice and fight and heal and comfort...all in the name of love. 

I don’t know very much, but after all of these years living as a person who is stripped down to not much more than a raw soul and a person who sits all of the time...I know love is just love. Love is just seeing our own eyes reflected back to us from our friend's, or enemy's, or lover's, or daughter's own eyes.

Love is simply the act of showing up and sitting with someone. Love doesn’t require some magic or some out of the box, extraordinary emotion. We spend lifetimes searching for the one we love or to be loved by our parents or friends or that cute boy in class. When the truth is, all love requires is a presence. A showing up. A willingness to see. 

But, the largest and most difficult trick to this whole love thing is - we must first learn to love ourselves. We must be able to look in the mirror and sit with the reflection who looks back at us. I needed to learn to love me before I saw my friend, Justin, as one who really loves. I needed to learn to love me before I could even begin the business of loving a friend. I needed to be able to sit with me and see and love the reflection that stares back at me, before I could even claim to love another soul.

Love is not romantic or’s just love. When we stop seeing love as special, or only available to those who find it, or birth it, or earn it, we will really see it. When we can finally look into our own eyes and hear our own cold and broken Hallelujah, we will feel love and see love and finally, finally we are able to give it to someone else.

You want to learn what love is? Look in the mirror. Look hard. See the Hallelujah in your own eyes and hear it with your own ears. See that you are loved. See that you are loved only because you are you. Because you are you. Just like Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, "One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving."

My forever friend - not because I see him everyday or every week or every year, but because he showed up for me and taught me to see me. And when I finally learned to love the broken version of me, I learned to love ALL versions of EVERY ONE I see. I wanted to post a picture of his beard and long hair, but I know he loves these sideburns.