Today I was responsible to prepare food for a large group of people – two full meals, and beverages, and seventy cups of coffee, and cream and sugar, and all of that kind of thing! I had spent the last week planning the repast and finding the best, most economical, and heartiest solutions I could. I spent a couple days arranging and shopping for, and storing, the ingredients for these meals.
A labor of love.
Yesterday I made up the lunch centerpiece – a massive pot of chili. Four kinds of beans, hominy, corn, chiles, tomatoes; garlic and spices. Between that, and caring for my children, my pets, and a few other kids, it was a hard workday. In the evening I thought, Well at least I got through all that!.
Then last night at 11 PM, shortly before bed, I adjusted the burner under the chili. And within five minutes, I’d burned all of it horribly. The entire pot. Past the point of serving. Past the point of donating to a soup kitchen, or doing anything but throwing it out.
When I perceived my mistake I put my head in my hands and cried – only for a moment. I quickly realized I was very angry with myself for making a mistake. Once I realized why I was angry, I knew I didn’t have to be angry.
And a few moments later I knew with clarity, There must be a reason. There must be some purpose to this error. Of course I can’t see it. I don’t know why. I don’t need to know. I simply don’t understand. Not understanding, the incident passed into the past, where it needed to be.
I made a new plan. I went to bed, and slept as well as I could.
Today’s event – with the help of three individuals – went well. A new pot of chili was made, and served alongside everything else – fresh fruit and pastries, bagels and cream cheese, homemade honey cornbread, coleslaw, pico de gallo, sour cream, onions, cheddar cheese, pop, juice, coffee. Everyone was fed and happy. I worked hard in a well-equipped kitchen, and after the attendees left I finished my duty by loading up the dishwasher over and over and putting everything away as it emerged sanitized.
After, I came home and rested.
Then later, in the evening, I was asked to speak about faith to a group of women.
This was funny because I’d been thinking about faith. I’d been thinking about it, because of the soup. What possible purpose was there in ruining that food? It was a great deal of time, and no small expense. While I was reimbursed for all food costs, I did not feel right adding in the new soup ingredients, as it was my error. Some of our grocery money – gone. A waste. A total loss.
And in turn, the soup had reminded me of another story about faith. A story close to my heart, that of a friend who’d been sexually assaulted as a child. Years ago when I sought her counsel – because I admired her way of life – she had told me, incredibly, that the sexual assaults she’d experienced as a young child helped her survive a later assault as a slightly older child. The details are unimportant. I remember sitting at her dining room table and looking at her flatly. I said, “—–, I don’t have the faith you have.” I meant it then. I saw the faith was real for her. It wasn’t real for me. I wasn’t angry or offended, but I found it incredible she could have peace with her painful experiences, as she so clearly had. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
And yet, over time, I came to see she was correct; or rather, that the way of faith was the correct way for Me. And I have come to see things as my friend does.
See, that’s how I knew the soup was burned for a reason.
So tonight, when asked to share on faith, I shared my friend’s story (without her name or details – of course). And I shared my soup story.
See, faith is simply a choice. There isn’t a “have” or a “have not”. There is a choice. I can’t talk you into it. And I no longer try. But now that I know it’s a choice, things are simpler for me.
I ended my story with – something like – “I’m a Buddhist. I know now there aren’t really big or little problems. There are just Problems. Once you see that, it’s a choice of faith or fear. It’s simple. If you aren’t here to learn about the way of faith – why are you here?”
I was so tired after I shared. I knew I’d spoken from the heart. I knew I hadn’t spoken suavely or with much decorum. I rested my head in my hands. There was a small beat of silence in the room.
Another woman responded, a woman I’d never before met. With her voice shaking, she began to speak slowly. She said I had shared the exact thing she needed to hear. Her past had been haunting her. She said she’d never understood until that moment, the purpose of three rapes she’d endured, as a younger woman. She said she’d forgiven these men, she’d done her healing work, but she’d never understood the point of it all. Then she said she now knew the purpose was to prepare her for what happened to her in her twenties. She said, “Tonight… I’ve received enlightenment. From listening to a woman I don’t know and have never met before.” She nodded, looking right at me. The room was silent as she nodded. She looked right at me, with my frazzled-out hair and my dead-tired eyes and my nearly completely faulty memory of what I’d shared in the first place. She nodded and I felt smashed flat. I had nothing to offer anyone but she seemed the better off that I shared my little twig of a life.
Later, I hugged this woman and we parted. I’d never seen her before and I don’t think I’ll see her again.
What is funny is of course I didn’t really help this woman. Because I only know about faith, as other people taught me about faith. I have no original ideas. I know this today.
But you know what? As I made my way home that evening I thought of this woman and how she said she’d been helped so much after years of trauma and I realized,
Oh, that’s why I burned the soup.
It took me so long to figure it out I almost laughed aloud.
There are even more reasons –
But most of them, though, I never really will know.