Saturday, April 08, 2006

lenten journal: thank you, tomato

I got to participate in my first Portuguese pun today.

Robert, the chef, likes to say, “Obrigado too much” when he wants to thank one of the Brazilian folks for helping him with something. It caught on with all of us, so you hear it a lot in our kitchen. Thelma came up with the appropriate response: “De nada mucho.” Pedro is new to the kitchen. He was helping me out today and when he finished I said, “Obrigado too much,” but what he heard was “Obrigado tomate “(pronounced “tomach”), which meant, to him,” “Thank you, tomato.”

He answered without flinching, “De nada, cebola,” which translated means, “You’re welcome, onion.” And we all had a good laugh. Nothing like a good food pun to bring people together.

What I have done since I wrote last night is sleep, rather restlessly, and work. I nodded off on the couch downstairs shortly after I finished writing. Gracie woke me a little before seven, which gave me time to feed the pups, get dressed, and head for the kitchen, since I was supposed to be there around nine. I got the soups on the stove, set up the line, and then checked to see what needed to be made so I could put a prep list together. Before I left last night, Wesley and Wanderson cut up tomatoes for the Pomodoro sauce and onions for the French Onion Soup, so I had those to do as well.

In our jobs we all have things we do everyday that feel unusual, exotic, or even strange to people outside the field. I caramelize about ten pounds of onions every time I’m in the kitchen – more if we’re making soup. I sauté about five pounds of mushrooms, as well. Heck, I even fry pappadums on a regular basis. One of our favorite regular statements that comes up on Law and Order is when one of them says, “Check his luds.” (It means phone calls.) I may get to fry pappadums, but I never get to check anyone’s luds in my line of work.

As I was slicing the onions this morning, and in the kitchen by myself, I tried to think about why cooking is such a respite from my depression. Some of it is the task-natured focus of the work. I can get lost in slicing onions or mushrooms, in mixing sauces, or making potstickers. But it’s more than some kind of Zen focus on the moment thing. I think a big part of it is there’s always something to learn, or some discovery to be made – usually growing out of a mistake or a necessity.

I ended up making a lentil, black bean, and chorizo soup because that was what we had to work with. Eduardo and I bounced ideas back and forth until we came up with a recipe that worked. Robert asked me to make sushi today. I decided to do a tempura shrimp roll. What I could find to go inside the roll were roasted red peppers and fresh mango. And that’s what went inside. Some of the recipes are passed along (the apprenticeship side of things also speaks to me) and there’s always room to say, “What if we tried this a bit differently.” A seemingly minor change, addition, or even subtraction can make a dish a whole new experience, or at least bring new interest to something that has become too familiar.

Man, I wish the point of my food analogy was to tell you I changed a few ingredients and today was incredibly different from yesterday. It wasn’t. I pushed myself out of the house (and into the cold rain) because I just did. The sadness that rode home with me last night was still in the car this morning. I was grateful for the routine of my Saturday – get coffee, call my parents, go to work – because it helped me remember where to go next. My prep list did the same thing. Crossing things off the list did give me some hope and sense of accomplishment. The depression did not get the best of me: I made the soup, the sauces, the caramelized onions, the spiced walnuts. And I learned a pun.

I feel, with some sense of certainty, that people get tired of hearing about depression a good while before those who are depressed decide to quit talking about it. It’s not hard for me to imagine people reading about a paragraph or two into what I have written here and saying, “He’ s still depressed” and moving on to something else. I’m not sure I know where the line is between vulnerability and self-absorption. And I keep thinking if I will examine my life and talk about the details – even find new language for my experience – then things can be different.

When my mother was dealing with some difficult medical choices, she said, “I’m not naïve. I know doing this has its own set of issues. But I would rather live with that set of issues than the set I live with now.” I love the informed hope in her statement. The change doesn’t have to be of fairy tale caliber to be worth doing.

When the warden tears down the poster in Andy Dufresne’s room in The Shawshank Redemption to find an escape tunnel, part of the power was he had dug the whole thing with a rock hammer over years and years. He had gone through his prison routine day after day, making small changes where he could and carrying out a couple spoonfuls of dirt every time he went out into the yard.

Pedro works at least one other job that I know about besides working hard as a dishwasher and doing the prep jobs that are most repetitious and boring – and all for not much money. I would imagine one day looks a lot like the other to him. I don’t know any more about his life than he does mine. We each have our rock hammers, chipping away the best we can.

What else can we do but say, “Thank you, tomato.”



africakidandtheworld said...

And we wonder why veggie-tales is so popular?? It's all about the tomato.

Anonymous said...

how about this new language from Henri Nouwen:"Joy and sadness are born at the same time, both arising from such deep places in your heart that you can't find words to capture your complex emotions. But his intimate experience in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death can point us beyond the limits ofour existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us."
it's the devotional for palm sunday from Show Me The Way, lenten readings.
i don't see self-absorption in your writing; i see healing by living and talking through the depression.

Anonymous said...

Please don't stop talking about it, Milton. Right now, I am making it through my day partly by reading how you made it through your day.

Keep naming my pain. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I notice how everyone here draws from one another. If one of us made it through the day, then we can make it too. That is a community Jesus was talking about or at least that is how I feel.

Tomorrow will come it will either be a good day or a bad day. But we know others and we are not alone.

Thank you, tomato

raj said...

naming it out loud is one of the ways we strike down fear and shame and isolation...which are huge components in sustaining depression. Milton, you are not what people expect. That's a gift. Your picture doesn't look like the kind of person who would choose to speak the truths you choose to offer here. That's a gift. Truthtelling and disrupting expectations in favour of reality...

Please, keep sharing. There is a balance to be kept, but you are keeping it.

I know whereof I speak; so do you.

Thank you.