by Mandy Steward
A lot goes into a pot of soup, and I was making two—a chicken alphabet soup for my kids and a quinoa chili for myself.
It has been a year of changes, many of which I didn’t plan on, nor did I appreciate when the time came to see them through, and on this particular day, as some days will go, it felt as though all the changes had culminated into one big heavy weight on my shoulders. My knees were shaking, telling me I was going down.
“Not without a hot bowl of soup!” I cried, shaking my fist of fury.
I rode my bike home from work and then on to school to pick up my kids. I waited at the corner with the boy with one real leg and one metal leg. I knew he was also riding his bike to the same elementary school to pick up his brother. He looked at me briefly then looked away. He felt like poetry.
I was quiet, thinking of my bowl of soup. Realizing that this last year’s events and this bike ride and this boy and this traffic light, they were all going to be thrown into the pot with the zucchini and the black beans and the onion. When you cook a pot of soup you have to cook it all. All the heartache and the pedaling to what feels like nowhere and the weak knees and the tired shoulders and the missing legs. All the determination to continue being you even when it feels like there is less and less margin to do so.
I didn’t want it to be this way. The fast pace. The hustle. So many of the hours in my day completely out of my control. The kids one place. The dad another place. The mom yet another. And the harsh clash of trying to bring those three worlds together whenever the stars aligned.
Into the soup along with the vegetable broth and the quinoa and the red peppers goes the ashes of expectations, the dust of dreams, the bitter root of withering hope.
I told a friend I was to stake my claim and not let go.
I told my sister that my art, my writing, it was the only thing keeping me sane, and there was less and less time for sanity.
I told myself that it feels as if everything is pecking away at what I hold most dear, and I wonder if there will be anything left when I get a chance to stop and assess the damage.
I lost myself in imagination the other night. Sitting outside on my porch in the dark of night with two candles and my journal, I envisioned taking it all away. Packing up the art supplies into boxes. Tearing down the art closet and changing it back into a coat closet with general household storage. Wouldn’t that be nice and neat and normal? Folding up my art studio table that takes up a big chunk of our small living room. Taking down my Etsy store. Selling my laptop. Packing away my art journals. Removing the writing desk and lamp from my clothes closet. I thought of the space it would provide. I envisioned everyone around me taking deep relieving inhales and exhales, expanding their limbs into all that room. Wouldn’t they love that? I thought, “If I ended it all, I would never return to it again. To sever it would be so debilitatingly final. Like losing a limb.” I wonder what metal crutch I would construct to put in its place. Something has to hold a person up.
This must all go into the soup too, of course. Boil it down. Let it simmer. Along with the cumin and the chili powder and the cayenne, I sprinkle pinches of the spices of deep mourning. A pot of soup honors the fact that in the end, it must all taste like comfort.
I was making a pot of comfort, evoked by reality. I was taking care of me and my fragile heart and the fragile hearts of my family. I was desperate for something to matter. For something to have impact.
Around the table my kids and I, we delighted in butter and honey on warm crusty bread, spelled things with alphabet noodles and let the warm liquid coat our insides and nourish the ache. There were lots of mmmmms and sighs, burps and hearty laughter, a few fights and lots of chatter. But soup was here, the long awaited for promise. Today’s light at the end of the tunnel. This is how me and my raw artist’s heart go on another day. One bowl of soup at a time, I am creating my way to freedom.
Mandy Steward is an artist and author of Thrashing About With God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. She blogs her messes at MandySteward.com. She also creates custom painted and inked Secret Messages, self-publishes a subscription based ‘Zine of gypsy journalism, and divulges her truth in a zealous band of Secret Rebels. She co-creates a way to to keep her faith alive via The Wild Mystics. She finally has a Self and finds that breathtaking. Find her on Facebook here.