no such thing as junk, not really

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.

that marmalade quote I like so much

I made an error, recently. I relied on two entities who were sending checks. Both of them, insurance entities. Both of them insist the payment is on its way. They’ve told us this a little while now (months; weeks resp.). So far in our post office box blows tumbleweeds.

I counted on that money (that was my error). I bought the things our family needs. Now we are in a tight spot.

It’s easy to let a mistake slip into feeling sorry for oneself; into self-criticism. I can be patient with this a while.

But I also know an antidote to this, or at least a spiritual balm. An antidote to self-pity, to self-recrimination: work. Or as my friend John used to say, “chores”.

Not mindless work for the sake of doing it, but the work I should do no matter what. The work I’d do no matter what because it has to be done.

I have rice to cook, for an event I am helping with tonight. So. I saute up fine-minced garlic in olive oil and coconut oil. I set aside broth to simmer; season rice with pepper.

Dishes. Laundry. Yoga; coffee.

Breathe in; breathe out.

My son will wake soon. He will then be the next thing I get to attend to. I don’t know what our plans are for the day – our reduced circumstances have cancelled our road trip – but I do know I bought him lychee yesterday and he loved them as much as I thought he would. I do know I bought him a fifty-cent creampuff at a bánh mì shop and he saved that for this morning.

I do know that he and I will be provided for in some way – whether I can see it, or not. I often can’t.


The young man has incredibly beautiful, large blue eyes. Leonine. Red-rimmed but striking. Today after I ask if he has anything to share, he finally breaks down and talks about the violence he committed while drunk, or on drugs – I’m not sure which (it doesn’t matter). He can barely speak and by the end he is crying as overwrought as I’ve seen anyone in real life. He’s choking and crying and in almost any other place you’d have people rescuing him or shushing him or uncomfortably squirming. This is a holy place though and that doesn’t happen, now.

Still. Since this is an early Recovery setting, there is a break in the sacrosanct listening you can usually expect when there are other “old timers” (like me! Ha!) present. See, addicts in treatment are like a box of baby chicks. Certain things disturb them and they start acting up in concert, popping out of the fog of their meds and talking. After even only fourteen months of regular experience, it’s still rather predictable. Depending on what they’re exposed to, sometimes they’re angry, edgy, and disrespectful. But today they’re offering the young man encouragement, because he’s in so much distress, and maybe they’ve not learned to let someone get through it, because there is no consoling the inconsolable. Or maybe they don’t realize this is a special moment, and our Presence is all that’s required. So anyway they tell him the person he abused will forgive him, the love of family is always there. They say parents are there for you no matter what. They say all the stuff they want to believe but don’t really, deep down, know to be true.

I’ve learned wisdom can come from just about anyplace, and I don’t give less credence to people based on their circumstances. But my thoughts: you can’t get clean or sober based on what your family thinks or whether they let you use them as a punching bag or whether they don’t return your calls. You can’t rehearse the remorse and guilt ad infinitim either without playing with the Relapse thing. And you can’t get clean and sober because you “owe” it to someone. Jack shit on that account. But I stay silent because even though I’m chairing this little get together, I’m not especially needed at the moment.

A few minutes later, incredibly, a young woman M. tells a story of triumph. She’s got it all figured out and she and her ex-husband are going to have a life together and fix everything between them since he’s been clean two years. Another woman asks if she’s afraid, saying, “My boyfriend and I only did heroin together the last four years.” “I’m not afraid,” M. says, lifting her head up. “What am I afraid of? Love? We’re going to be that cute old couple that drives around on casino tours in an RV with a little dog.” Of everyone tonight, she’s the spookiest to listen to. She’s not scared enough, I don’t think. I could be wrong though.

I’m thinking of how much suffering I’m exposed to. It’s quite phenomenal. The human capacity to suffer is incredible. We will take it to such extremes, until we are angry and pinched and flee only to the corners that cosign our bullshit, or the chemicals that give us release, but soon those things aren’t even enough.

Then there are those in limbo. I’m thinking of a woman who came into Recovery sad and frightened but now she’s angry. She’s angry she can’t drink but she’s angry about other shit too. I can see it as clear as I can see through a still pond. She sits in the group and won’t share and smiles but the look in her eyes is crazy-anger. She’s ballooned up in weight and her eyes bulge like someone squeezed her around the middle. But she won’t share. “I’m just here to listen.”

Last night another woman eight months sober broke down crying after many months of “not sharing”. She’s one of those women who’s incredibly beautiful, she did more drugs than I’ve seen and was hauled off to jail and evicted and she’s tough as nails and stunningly lovely. And I sat four inches away and let her cry, it was beautiful and I hope she comes back for more healing. It’s this kind of crying… I can’t describe it. It’s not that congested, angry crying. It’s like watching a river flow, watching a freshet. It’s sorrow, sure, but it’s also a very real moment because someone is breaking down and being themselves, and being broken, and doing this with another human being. It’s one of the most spiritual things I’ve seen and one of the most spiritual things I’ve experienced.

When I was scared I stayed scared until someone could help me, and I did as was suggested and I never got to the angry part. I’m not angry I can’t drink. Well, I can drink. For me, to drink alcohol would make as much sense as drinking Drano. There were many years I drank and thought it did me little harm, and maybe that it helped, and that it was my prerogative. But I was incorrect. It did harm me.

Back to treatment. It meant a lot to me tonight that this young man J. recognized me from last Wednesday, and his face lit up when he saw me. Wednesday I’d made a joke at the end of our meeting, as I’d noticed he had “DGAF” written on his knuckles. Just before we broke the group up I said, “J., I hope it’s not true that you DGAF. I hope you do GAF.” His face went from inanimate to a surprised smile and his eyes came alive. Anyway when he saw me tonight he was glad to see me. He’s one of those who cuts me right to the heart, because at 35 many of these I work with are children. I am often capable of seeing the child in any addict or alcoholic but the ones who are so young, it’s like I want to breastfeed them.

Oh and when I leave tonight a young man C. says, “I like your style.” That’s pretty cool.

I could write pages and pages more just on the last couple days alone. It could be overwhelming if I let it. It helps to write.

One of the most amazing things I’ve learned is I haven’t met the the addict or alcoholic who doesn’t hurt so bad for what he or she did to other people. Not the one and I’ve literally heard thousands of testimonies. It is incredible. It is a blessing. My faith in the beauty of humankind and of God is unshakable.

I’ve also learned to be entirely at home with other human beings.

A woman who helped me so much, and continues to, told me soon I’d feel my heart break because so much compassion would flow in. I remain grateful and humbled by my experiences. There are too many to pray for each evening. Too many to remember in my consciousness. My god-consciousness will have to do, as much or as little as I may have.