Lessons in Moments of Silence
A couple of weeks ago, a beloved neighbor passed away unexpectedly. Of all the people I know, why did it have to be him? My neighbor is known for being bright and positive, and such a statement is not of his spirit. That being said, I realize it’s a terrible thought to utter into words. Grief over a loss has mostly been my experience of late, for his passing is the fourth memorial in less than six months. My perception of life has tilted toward the negative. Attempting to wake up happy, I’m moving with a heavy heart against a strong wind that doesn’t cease to take a break.
My year started with the unexpected murder of a friend that would appear in the local newspaper. A small uprising starting in Tunisia would spread throughout North Africa to appear into the back pages of the world news. Eventually, the front pages of the newspaper reports of Egyptian citizens watching their leader of many years step down. Libya is in a deadly civil war and commodity prices are on the rise. A recovering recession could or not be on the decline. I wake up on the morning of my neighbor’s funeral to the news of an 8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Northeastern Japan. Hawaii and the western United States, where my boyfriend and relatives are located, are placed on a tsunami warning.
The day after the funeral is a beautiful Saturday. By the time a delayed project is complete, there’s only a couple of short hours until sunset. The decision to embrace the rest of a warm winter sun is made. A few minutes later, a simple coffee is ordered. Eventually, a lady would stroll into the coffee shop to start a conversation about the world news. Someone suggests talking about happier events. Except for the sounds of the coffee shop’s small kitchen utensils being moved, water being turned on and off, and a coffee machine running, the tiny space is silent of voices. It was I who broke the silence, “The BedStuy Farm Share is accepting applications for this year’s membership. Several of the farmers are Black. They have a share of fresh eggs, too. The kind of eggs with the orange-yellow yolks…” The small group, including the owner, actually was interested in hearing more.
It was a discussion that started about food. Somehow, we would find ourselves in a circle. If we didn’t talk about food, I would’ve left after an hour to go home to work on a post about Ginger Lentil Soup with an Eggplant Puree. The soup was made a few weeks ago, while watching the protests in Egypt on television. The previous week only had one post, because it was extremely busy, and here I was in a small coffee shop procrastinating another day of writing the post. However, I stayed in this small circle to discuss food, and how it relates to the family, values, community, history, and farming. The conversation gradually turned into religion. I rarely discuss my spirituality. In my quietness, I listened to strangers or mere acquaintances candidly discuss their beliefs and experiences.
A doctor mentioned how Christianity started with secret small groups of people to receive a sermon. It was imperative for people to meet in discreet groups out of fear of being persecuted for their beliefs. An actor continued to explain the reason behind the persecution because of a revolutionary name Jesus Christ, who spoke out against the Roman Empire and the Jewish establishment. The conversation shifted to criticisms about today’s churches, leaderships, and religions. An entrepreneur then made an enlighten statement about some Christian leaders disconnecting themselves from the truth about the metaphysics of life; such as death is not a time to mourn. Spiritual growth is learning how to handle challenges with a positive thought process of being honest with the realities of life.
The explanation of the metaphyics of life and religion is the moment to understand why I was still in this small coffee shop in the late evening. Returning home with a heavy heart, my mind reflected on that Saturday evening’s “sermon.” Spiritually, it was a seed of positive thinking planted in my current stagnant thoughts dragged down with intense negativity about life. An entrepreneur suggested meditating and practicing thoughts of affirmation in the mornings. Such actions are how to balance the ups and downs of a day, and it encourages positive thinking. It’s the type of thinking that defines my neighbor’s spirit.
At the time, his funeral was quite perplexing to me. I didn’t see people in fits of tears or sobbing away in grief. His son honestly smiled during the funeral to say hello to old friends and as he walked behind the casket. His mother laughed delightfully when doves were released into the air at the internment. His family and friends know of his happy spirit. His passing is of a surprise, but they kept moving forward.
On a winter warm Saturday, a coffee shop circle of now familiar people, would remind me of my neighbor’s spirit: “Life is a fact. Now, what are you going to do next? Good! Go do it.” He’ll say this firmly succinct and happy, like the neighborhood guru, church leader, Boy Scout and NAACP leader he is. Spiritually renewed, I move with a heavy heart and a positive mind.
Ginger Lentil Soup
Salt and fresh black pepper; to taste
4 slices of bacon (duck, turkey, or pork); roughly chopped
1 medium onion; diced
3 to 4 inch long fresh ginger; minced
5 to 6 carrots; diced
3 celery stalks; diced
1 green bell pepper; diced
2 garlic cloves; minced
1 tsp. harrisa (more or less; based on personal taste)
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
A dash of cinnamon
28 oz. low-sodium chicken stock; enough to cover the vegetables and lentils, plus more as needed
1 dried chili pepper
1 to 2 fresh bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 2 cups Italian Parsley; roughly chopped
A handful of fresh sage leaves; minced
6 to 8 oz. of French Lentils (or called lentils du Puy)
Garnish: Eggplant Puree (recipe to follow)
1. In a large pot, heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium-low temperatures. Add bacon and fry until brown and crisp. Remove bacon onto a paper towel lined plate. Place aside.
2. If there is little to no oil in the large pot, add more olive oil (about 2 to 3 tbsp.). Add onion and ginger. After a few minutes, when the onion is translucent, add the carrots, celery, harissa, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, fresh black pepper, and green bell pepper. After a minute, add the garlic. Stir for 30 seconds.
3. Add the chicken stock, bacon, chili pepper, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, lentils, parsley, and sage. Season as needed with salt and fresh black pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Afterwards, barely partially cover the pot and reduce temperature until the soup is simmering. Cook lentils for 30 to 45 minutes until they’re the desired softness. Add more chicken stock, if needed.
4. Ladle soup into individual bowls. Top with Eggplant Puree. Garnish with parsley.
Red balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; amount depends on personal taste
A tiny amount of crushed red pepper (not too much)
1 large eggplant; cut lengthwise in half
A small handful of whole walnuts; toasted
1 garlic clove; minced
1 to 2 cups Italian Parsley
1/8 to 1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt; plain/unflavored
The fresh juice of 1/2 a lemon
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place eggplant halves, cut side up on the baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the eggplant. Season with crushed red pepper, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Place in oven and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until the eggplant is soft. Remove from the oven to cool.
2. In a food processor, place the walnuts, garlic clove, parsley, yogurt, 1 tbsp. red balsamic vinegar, salt, fresh black pepper, and lemon juice in the bowl. Scrape the roast eggplant’s flesh into the bowl and discard the skin.
3. Process the ingredients to a puree. Turning the processor off, scrape the down sides, if necessary. While the processor is on, add a little olive oil (only a few tablespoons to thin into desired consistency).
4. Enjoy with as a sandwich spread, vegetable dip, or with your favorite lentil soup.
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