Monday, November 22, 2010

La Soupe de Tomate

In 1981, my mom’s best friend was Delphine. Delphine came from the pages of a Victor Hugo novel. Her grandfather was a turn of the century industrialist from Arques (a town where we lived in Northern France in the early 80s). The family did well –a Victorian mansion in northern France, an apartment in Paris, a summer home in Saint Tropez. But those were grander days that passed with the changing wind. For although, the buildings remained, the lifestyle and its contents were austere, like Delphine’s visage, bare and pink, no trace of makeup. No pretenses either with her flowing frizzy orange hair that bounced freely, when she walked.


On a day like any other, only a couple months working at the glass distillery called Arcopal – my mother, a new émigré and secretary, met Delphine, the cousin of the HR director. Something clicked and they became inseparable.


I saw her often in our tiny 1 bedroom flat where they would talk well into the night that became day again, the sounds of scraping butter over toast. Or during long walks we would take on the canal behind our apartment or on lovely late summer picnics when you could eat sweet raspberries right off of the vine.


In winter, we were invited to have dinner with her family. I was 6 at the time. We walked into the mansion; with its large wrought iron doors, its echoing hallways and cavernous rooms. The grandeur of wealth turned into a shadow, dilapidated and cold.


Madame P - Delphine's mother, a petite woman with black hair pulled into a bun, was in the kitchen – one of the 2 places in the home that was lit and heated. The kitchen was covered with white tiles and Wonder Woman was on the television. If no one were there, I would have surely spun myself around with Linda Carter to reveal my true magical identity.


Madame saw my eyes light up as I stood in front of the television, hypnotized. We didn’t have one.


Vien ici, come here.”


She lured me away from the tv set and pointed to a brown box in the corner. There was a circle of black fur inside. Several kittens lay hibernating tucked inside a labyrinth of each other’s bodies.


“You can pet them. Take one.”


I knelt down next to the box excited by their miniature bodies and limbs. I stroked their heads of black velvet, mesmerized by their sharp claws, their eyes, and whiskers, the sounds they made, mie…mieee… mieeou.


Madame went to a pot on the stove and stirred its mysterious, unassuming contents. Finally, the soup was ready.


We made our way to the dining room, the second place in the house that was lit and heated. There was a large roaring fire. The dining table sat right in front of the fireplace so you could instantly feel the heat on your face.


The oval table was vast and immense - more than enough space for the 5 of us. Madame, Delphine, her brother –(I don’t remember his name, something that sounded like Gregoire or Edouard) and my mom. Gregoire or Edouard spoke little. He looked like his sister, yet with eyes more distinctly outturned and that same orange hair, parted down in the middle. Across from me, he grinned like a devil as he lifted his hands, revealing 3 fingers on each hand, a secret deformity meant to shock.


Delphine ladled the soup, red and white lava pools into each of the delicate china bowls and passed them around. There was salt on the table, pepper, cheese, cream and croutons.


The soup was an autumn pasture–the smell of fresh milk inside a pail and ruby tomatoes that had ripened underneath a bay leaf tree. On first taste, it felt like putting on a cashmere sweater after coming back from the rain. Soft, warm and comforting. Each spoonful was another coal for the fire, stoking the flames inside my chest and belly. Delphine poured more cream liberally into her soup. She added cheese and croutons. I followed along and did the same, enjoying the hard bread turning into soft clouds on my tongue. I looked around studying my surrounding, the edges of the room began to transform into a chiaroscuro painting from Caravaggio; faces around me, the dark shadows and lines illuminated against the bold orange rays of the fire.


On my lap, a secret; a black kitten sleeping that I would pet ever so often with my fingers.


I don’t remember the rest of the meal.


I just remember that soup. And that bubbling feeling of delight. Yes, that feeling. The first feeling of comfort and joy by which to define future experiences. I’ve felt it many times later in life, in different forms, similar vibrations like the feeling after a long run, the sheer thrill of jumping into a pool, or maybe a first kiss, soft and breathless. Or even falling in love when you feel something warm in your heart and then a little light headed afterwards. A mixture of fear/uncertainty turned into surprise turned into bliss.


~~~


10 years went by and I was 16 when my mother and I returned to France, our first trip back. It was the last month of the year, and we were in Paris with family. We met up with Delphine for an afternoon. We spent long hours catching up and walking on the cold streets along the Champs Elysees and along the department stores of Gallerie de Lafayette.


She took us back to their home where we found Madame P in the kitchen.


“Maman, do you remember Lan and her daughter?”


Madame smiled blankly, but then something in the curve of her mouth revealed a glimmer of the past.


“Yes, of course. Your daughter, I remember when she spent the week with us and she didn’t let me bathe her. She wouldn't let me. She went a week without bathing. Yes! How are you? Would you like something warm to eat?”


Something was bubbling on the stove, something familiar that greeted me from the cold.


Delphine’s cousin, his hands cupped around a coffee cup filled with the color of fire.


“Mmmmm, la soupe de tomate. Elle est bonne. Tomato soup, it’s good.”


~~~


I made my version of the tomato soup recently. I tried to recreate the same taste by memory. It ended up being slightly different from my childhood, perhaps my own experiences infusing the soup. But still so tasty. It’s something you can try if you need to stoke and keep the internal fires warm or even recreate the feeling of falling in love on a winter’s day.


Tomato Soup. Serves 12-16


3 large cans of tomatoes, (although you can use fresh)
1 leek
1 potato
1 yam
vegetable bouillon cubes
1 cheese rind
bay leaves
water


Cook for several hours (it was 10 hrs on low, you can easily cut it to 2-3 hrs on med/high). Time (like writing) is really the secret ingredient. The more time, the better it tastes. Add honey, pepper, salt, butter and cream to taste.



Monday, November 15, 2010

Thirteen More Miles

For a November, we’re having unusually warm weather. Summer is stubborn in her persistence, it seems. It's easy to imagine her, a woman demanding her equal share in the spotlight. Spring did have a long showing this year. And why so? Somehow you feel that Summer has cajoled Winter to share his days and she’s succeeded. Since for a week now, the weather in the city has been magical, temperate mornings, summer afternoons and cold evenings arriving as early as 5pm.


I’m happy that it’s a t-shirt kind of morning. My grey cable sweater feels too heavy on my back. I take it off and leave it lying on the patio chair. I feel free and at ease. An ice pack rests on my left foot. I’m having breakfast and journaling in the backyard ---a luxurious experience for a Monday. I take my time to enjoy stillness and study the surroundings that is always dynamic and changing.


Manly, his brown coat is glistening; gleaming as he sleeps, “sunbathing” on the stairs that lead to our backyard, while Biela, my arctic fox, rests under the shade of my chair. A blue jay makes an appearance. I can see his blue form behind the solitary calla lily that stands proudly. His belly is round filled with the lovely insects he’s caught this morning. There’s another blue jay, its mate perhaps, sitting silently, incognito on the branch of our yellow trumpet tree. Behind the yellow-green leaves, I can see her head cocking several times from side to side as she’s focusing in my direction. Does she see me watching her?


I shift the weight of my hip to a more comfortable position, every movement lets outs a sound, as the bones creak and pop like the sound of steps on an old wooden floor.


I breathe in the delicious air. It’s sweet, the same as yesterday’s but less salty on my skin.




~~~


Saturday, November 13, 2010. The day before the Big Sur ½ marathon. I’m not sure where the decision came from to enter the race. I’d registered several weeks after coming home from Oxford and Spain, back in August this year, itching perhaps for something to look forward to, a new challenge.


On our ride down to Monterey, the day before the race with my love, behind the wheel and the smell of strawberries in the fields, I find a 2010 list of goals on my iphone, a list I’d made earlier this year. Listing all the things I wanted to accomplish…a souvenir from the old me.


Reading the list, it felt fake and almost pretentious, as if what I envisioned for myself can be so easily attainable and simplified like a possession.


Open mic/have a reading
Act in a film/theater piece
Trip to Peru, Vietnam
Oxford
½ marathon or full



This list doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. Things have changed over the course of the year. Why not dream bigger, I ask myself? Does this list truly define me?


The truth is, I haven’t decided yet if I really want to do the race.


Three days earlier I’d sprained my left foot on an 8 mile run. I’d been limping and icing the foot, telling myself if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Why force it?


We arrive in Monterey, late afternoon. To avoid the crowds, we quickly pick up our race packets that contain a race shirt and bib number at the Monterey Conference Center. As we cross the street making our way back to the car, getting lost somehow, a man our age walks parallel to us. He has long hair and is walking a German shepherd mix.


“Alvarado is the street on your right, if you keep walking straight through this street.”


His words don’t reach me immediately, I’m too stuck in my own mind to pay attention, trying to remember where the car was parked.


Finally, I look up in his direction and smile. We follow him.


“Are you both in the race tomorrow?”


My love immediately lights up and smiles yes and I say something to the affect of I hope so, will try.


“At least it’s not a full marathon. You know that miner from Peru, he did the New York Marathon. He took his time icing his knee, but he finished the race. Can you believe it?”


“Where are you folks from?”


“San Francisco.”


“You guys are probably still celebrating up there. Man, I’m glad the last game [world series] was in Texas, otherwise, if it was in the city, that would have been a major disaster if the team lost…like a big earthquake. Its sweet revenge to win in Texas, you know, much safer and it just shows the Bushes, up yours.”


We both are laughing out loud at his refreshing openness.


“Well, have a good race tomorrow.”


We thank him and find our way to the car. I think about the miners. I’ve been so out of the media frenzy-filled news that I ask my love about the story. I later learn that 33 men were trapped in a Peruvian mine for 2 months but later saved.


I wonder how it could have been possible to survive 2 months in darkness without hope or food. I’m overcome with admiration for the miner who finished the marathon even amidst knee complications. It makes my injury look like nothing. I make up my mind then that if he can do it, then I have no excuse to try. Mind over matter.




~~~




Race day. November 14, 2010. We wake up at 5:45AM. My love is already up and about preparing his version of strong hotel coffee and oatmeal.


He’s already showered and is in the process of preparing his gear. The morning is a blur. I take out newly bought clothes from a Sports Basement bag, removing the price tags still attached. I squirt a big glob of biofreeze and take 2 ibuprofens. I swallow down breakfast as best as I can at such an early time. Coffee and a wheat bagel (extra fiber, as it turns out) with cream cheese.


The race is no longer a desire or a goal. Some how it’s transformed into a force of will power; I feel it permeating my entire body.


Trust your body, it is stronger than you know.


The rest of the morning is captured like Polaroids snapped too quickly. 2 eaten bananas, bus shuttle, last port-a-potty trip, line up in respective corrals, start line, GO!


We’re separated, into holding blocks, like young bulls making their debut at the rodeo. I’m in a corral behind my love. Corral H. Slowly, the groups in alphabetical order make their way to the starting line.


60% of the people in the race are women. We’re in a group of 5 thousand that day. I check my watch, 7:15. I hear the last words from the announcer.


“Ok guys, are you ready?? Let me hear you guys!... H stands for HOT. Have a great race and ENJOOOOOOOOOY.”


I start off slowly but firmly. I have a black visor on, a birthday gift from a friend. I can still remember her words when she gave it to me along with the gym bag and other sports essentials. You’ll need it trust me, especially when the sun is out. I’ve kept it for 2 years now and today I put it into use. It helps me focus. It keeps me shielded like a protective armor. I tighten the band and wear the rim close down to my eyes.


I look up every now and then when I need to take in the course and moving landscapes around me.


First, downtown Monterey, there’s a young man in a tux, keyboard, playing a song from Santana, I cut through the crowd and move my body close to him receiving the vibrations of the music like a sacrament.


Then the tunnel. This is the most exhilarating part as all the runners scream, the echos of their voices fill the tunnel. The chaos, undoctored. There’s the sound of a bag pipe. I scream, first in a high pitch…then a more primal lower pitch. Every time I let out a scream, I hear the people around me, their energy, amplifies into something greater. We sound like a whale inside its belly. The sound passes and moves backward to the runners behind, who add to the chorus.


Every now and then when I feel slightly tired, I drift off of someone close to me. I match their fast pace. I don’t know who these people are but I take in their energy.


I hear heavy footsteps. A woman in her fifties, short hair. She’s bulky but working hard. She has arm warmers the color of flames. I call her the fire lady. I pass her several times but I am amazed that she catches up to me. I hear the shortness of her breath, struggling. Yet, she is determined. Regardless of age or body, that defines too easily, today, she is out to conquer the mind.


I leave her behind and find another pair of moving feet. I drift along to their rhythm until we pass Cannery Row and the Aquarium. I can smell the ocean now and can see its vast body, awakening before me.


We go through a residential area, up a hill. People are out of their homes and cheering on the runners. A woman with bells, a man beating his drums that looks like a trash can. My feet syncopate to each slap of the drum, the bounce of the palm, matches the bounce of my heel against the concrete.


By mile marker 5, I feel good in my body. I try and avoid negative energy around me. It’s around people who talk too loudly, forcing too much of a good time. They keep their conversations loud, although deep down, what they want is for the race to be over and done with. Their voices drown out their fear or boredom perhaps.


Then there are those with the head phones, lost in their own world.


I hear a man cursing; he’s battling with his legs. He’s fighting off the pain. I move faster, avoiding his form.


“Shit. Fuck!” He yells at himself.


The lead pack of runners is already making their way back to the finish line, not even an hour into the race. I cheer on a woman, she’s over taking a man. She looks like a greek goddess with her wavy hair. She looks utterly still like a statue.


The fastest can easily finish sub 1:05.


I try and keep present in my body, finding my own stillness. I sense my mind, drifting, the ego making its presence known. It’s trying to play mind games again.


You’re injured it reminds me. You can take a little break.


I tell my ego to fuckoff.


I’m almost at the half way mark when I hear a voice.


“Come on Mai!!”


It’s my love; he’s already making his way back.


I yell back. “Run fat boy run!” A line from one of our favorite movie.


I look ahead and I see the serpentine shape of the runners ahead of me. The poka dot colors moving like a conveyer belt.


Breathe. Let go.


I try to keep balance to avoid putting too much weight on my left foot. Finally the halfway point.


On the way back, the ocean guides me. She's managed to seduce and lull several people to stop, rest and drink in her serene views. But I try not to look too much at her because she is so mesmerizing. Instead, I breathe her perfume and look above to watch the birds gliding, playfully on the wind.


By now, I hear Taiko drums. Ancestral drums. There is a row of women, beating the drums with wooden sticks releasing healing vibrations as it strikes. It evokes something in me that comes from another life. Something in my soul. A feeling from the womb or a battle cry of the warrior. It feels like a mix of both and temporarily, I feel the lightness in my body.


I pass them and make my way to the 9 mile marker.


“Are you Hmong?”


I lift me visor and look up.


“No, Vietnamese.”


“My mother has the same name, Mai.”


My bib number which rested in front of my waist at the start line, has now traveled around my back, easily readable to runners behind me.


I look up at a young woman in a pink race shirt. I smile at her and wish her a good race.


Strange, but I feel like her mother is with her. I can feel her spirit. She moves quickly ahead of me until her body disappears and I can no longer find her pink back.


Marker 10. Only 3 more miles now.


Every now and then I hear the cheers from the crowd. Their words arrive right when I need them most.


“You’re got this. You can do it”


I clap my hands exchanging my optimism with theirs.


I see people slowing down. Exhaustion. We’re moving down hill back to Cannery Row. I try and quicken my pace. By now my sole feels like it’s on fire.


Surprisingly, I see fire lady again. She managed to get ahead of me. Unbelievable.


You’re injured. Have a little rest at the next mile.


Another mind fuck. I tell my ego to fuckoff again for good! Regardless of what happens, I will finish even if it takes me longer. I will not stop.


Passing the Bubba Gump restaurant, I see Forest Gump. He’s on a bench.


“Run Susan run!” He yells at the woman in front of me.


By now, the sun is hot above me, so grateful for my visor, I pull it tighter over my eyes.


Another flare on my sole. This time, I’m hopping slightly. I think of Manly and Biela. I picture them before a walk and their infectious excitement. I hear Biela’s high pitched whining, her tail wagging. I see Manly howling. Both images of them are exaggerated giving me hope.


And then from a distance, I hear the barking of the sea lions. Their voices getting louder as if somehow they heard my prayers.

The last mile is the hardest. People are starting to walk. Self-sabotage. So close to the finish. Don’t give up, I want to yell out.



“Come on, finish strong. Heel toe, heel toe. You’re almost there.” A man yells.


I pick up the pace slightly.


“Only a quarter of a mile left guys. You are almost there.” A blonde woman cheers on.


I pick up speed.


Finally, I see it. I hear the crowds, the sound of music. The announcer’s voice.


“Come on runners. Oh, looks like we have some strong finishers. Looks like we have one, she’s coming from behind, she’s sneaking in...”


I give everything I have left. I can no longer feel my feet. With all my trust, my exhilaration, I allow my body to take over and glide, further, stronger, passing bodies around me, reaching to cross over, to the other side of the line, finally arriving. 


By Mai Brehaut


Big Sur (taken by concierge.com)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Intimate

The Light that radiates in all
of us –
follow it.
When you Care
And open yourself,
Trust allow it
To Comfort
give Courage to
yourself,
Strength and
Tenderness can live
together as
one.

By Mai Brehaut
11/6/10

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Humbling Halloween

I spend Halloween afternoon at Glide Memorial Church, meal service. I’m with a group of 20 other volunteers from One Brick. We liberate and pop open the soft tiny bags that contain our instant uniform: 1 prison grade hairnet, 1 pair oversized garbage bag gloves, 1 see thru lunch lady apron. Our nametags, "Hello, My Name is..." scream awkwardly underneath the plastic aprons as we tie the transparent arms over our clothes.

“The end of the month is the hardest for folks when money is tight. It’s the last day of the month. They’re trying to do what they can to stretch what they have. Hard times, you know. You gotta do, what you gotta do.” A man named James tells us.

He’s short, built like a heavyweight boxer, tats on both forearms, black t-shirt, black pants, black cap, brown eyes. He could take us all down. He portrays the image of a tough guy from el barrio, but his tone and manner of speaking betrays him. I later learn that James is among the core Glide volunteer staff – men and women, who have benefited from Glide’s community services. They volunteer too, their way of giving back.

“So, I’ll take you to the back. We’ll get about a thousand people at lunch today. Help out where it’s needed and have a good time guys.”

James takes us to the main eating area. There are so many volunteers that our bodies instantly create a traffic jam as we head towards the silver counter and trash bins for the empty trays and cups. The sound of the dining hall grows louder as the lunch service begins. I can’t hear what James says anymore. One of the volunteers in the front closest to James relays his message.

She says, “if there is an empty water pitcher, fill it. Take away the tray. Clean the tables and make people feel comfortable.” She’s a young woman from the East Bay, short hair and thick cool glasses. Her efficient words show that she’s volunteered before.

The message gets passed back quickly, an imaginary phone placed, ear to ear until everyone knows what to do and our line disperses into an army of bees flying in all directions.

People are now starting to pour onto the banquet tables and green chairs.

I feel slightly nervous and out of place.

My eyes fall first on the senior citizens, mostly Asian women and men. This is the hardest for me to take in. They’re the age of my parents. I look away and take a deep breath. I think about the Glide Ensemble singers, their uplifting voices as I walked in earlier this morning. Their colorful orange robes and hand clapping words, the airy vibration of joy that pins me grounded, “Cele...a..bration, jubi..la...tion.”

A man stuffs the entire contents of his blue tray, a baked chicken thigh, mashed potatoes, broccoli and bread into a plastic baggie. In less than a minute, he stands up and walks away.

I snap into action and take his tray from him and smile.

“Thank you. Take care.” I don’t know what to say but he smiles back and says, “Thank you, honey. Alright.”


With such a simple exchange, my heart quietly sings.

There are folks who are clearly homeless. But most are just struggling to make ends meet. There are the wanders some with hiking bags, roller luggage, backpacks. Some are teenagers, runaways perhaps. There are the occasional eccentrics in tattered suits and ties, an African American man with a scarf; he looks like Langston Hughes, I offer to fill his cup with more water. There’s another man, Tom Hanks in Philadelphia with smudged mascara. A man in a beehive wig and red lipstick, a purple teddy bear hangs from his purse. Every now and again, I’ll see women. One sits alone with large Jacky O sunglasses, gray turtleneck. She speaks to herself as she eats. She doesn’t want anyone to touch her tray when she’s done. She insists on clearing it herself. A sense of pride.

A man eats standing up. He doesn’t want anyone near him.

Quickly a crowd of people form, shuffling for a place to sit. I start to help navigate those to empty spots. A Latino man, he’s searching, I put my hand lightly on his shoulder to guide him. He snaps his shoulder away from my hand, fiercely, showing  “back off, don’t touch me”.

He’s territorial. I’m surprised but give him his space. 


A year ago, I would have taken many things personally. But I don’t now. I know people are struggling to survive. As best I can, I push away discouragement. 


There’s no time to react and I see a finished tray and grab it to put it away. The dining hall is so crowded with people that sometimes all we can do as volunteers is to take each other’s trays and relay them back to the end of the room where they are stacked and carted away to another part of the kitchen for washing.

A man drops a key, his ID and hat.

“Excuse me! Sir! You dropped your things. Sir!”

I lean down grab desperately for his key with my plastic gloves. He talks back in Spanish. I can’t understand the words but he repeats them. Finally, I take off my glove, grab the key and put it into his hand. He repeats his words again. But I shake my head and smile. Finally, I hear “Gracias.”

Nicky, a Glide volunteer comes from behind me and whispers, “Honey, be careful of him. He’s a pervert. He tried to touch me last week. He’s no good. Be careful.”

“Ok, thanks.” I’m grateful for her caring.

The baked chicken gets devoured quickly, then the potatoes. People are leaving behind their broccoli and small green pears the size of my small fist. I start to save the pears from the trash bins. I put them into an over sized salad bowl that quickly over flows. Before I know it, all the volunteers start to save the pears too.

“All you need to do is make a crumble with all the pears.” I tell one of the volunteers closest to me. He’s got a red cap and blue eyes. He looks like Chucky, a weathered version.

“What’s that?” He grins.

I’m surprised by his response.

“It’s like a pie. If we made crumble, the pears would be gone in a second.”

“Oh, ok, sounds good.” Says Chucky. He takes my empty tray and takes the blue cup.

There’s a bucket of washcloths. The water is dirty, but I grab a washcloth anyway. My washcloth becomes my companion, when in doubt, wipe the table.

Chucky comes to me and starts grinning. He pulls my arm closer to his. I don’t understand his words. “Man you have no idea what just went down. Man, no idea.” He pulls me closer.  His breath is stale and fetid. I turn my face away; his words are erratic and nonsensical. I’m confused but I manage to break away from him and grab an empty water pitcher at a near by table.

“Don’t worry. He’s a good guy. I think he just likes you.” Nicky says comforting me.

“So do you have any kids sweetheart?” She asks.

Nicky stands a little shorter than me with a cherub face.

“2 dogs and a husband. You?”

“1 kid. 14 ½. “

“No way! You look too young.” I tell her.

“How old do you think I am?... Guess.”

“I dunno. 23.” I charm her.

“35!”

I realize that we’re both about the same age. She removes her cap and shows me a couple of white hairs amidst her short wavy mane that’s jet black. She puts her cap back on and pours water for new folks that have just sat down. She has a sense of tenderness and an easy laugh that lights up others around her.

I relieve her of a tray she’s carrying and from that moment on, I watch out for her and help her whenever I can. I lift many trays from her and relay them back.

“Hurry up, you have to move faster than that if you’re going to be my wife.” One of the volunteer says. His skin is sun-kissed, a native cowboy with shoulder length hair.

“My husband never complains.” I say back jokingly.

“Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t. You better hurry up, cupcake.”

On his nametag, the words Joe Smith are written in elementary cursive. I wonder if it’s his real name. As he speaks, his lips reveal missing teeth.

People keep pouring in. The trays start to look all the same to me, new, finished. I can’t tell the difference anymore. I start to feel overwhelmed.

I stand next to Joe for a quick breather.

“Come on smile. It’s Halloween.” I notice he’s a little down.

“Sorry, I’ve had a tough week and I need to clean my gun tonight. Trick or treat for sure.”

The words are strange but I’m off to pick up another tray before they make any sense.

A flying tray misses my face.

I hear Joe shout at the person behind me.

“Hey, you need to watch where you’re going!!!”

I wonder about Joe and his current state. I wonder if he does have a gun or if its a sign of street bravado, a way of talking, expressing "hey, don't mess with me".  But his actions show nothing but a sense of deep caring. I watch him wipe the tables. He works diligently. 

I notice now that the salad bowl can not take in any more saved pears.  A volunteer gives me a larger container and I start to transfer the pears. They still have their fresh odor. There’s a perfect one with the leaves still on the stem.

Sometimes my eyes randomly fall on some one else’s, sometimes the look is returned with defensiveness that tests, sometimes it’s intense and vaguely provocative, but often it’s indifferent and glazed. I become more careful and keep my eyes downcast.  I start to understand why the core volunteers have caps on; it works as a shield.

For the first time, the light shines in and brightens the basement.

People are cheering. The kitchen is closed. 3 hours fly by so quickly and before I know it; I follow all the One Brick volunteers like cattle to the lockers to retrieve our belongings. I run back and tell Nicky that it was a pleasure to know her and that I hope to see her again. I don’t find Joe.

“So did you have fun?” James asks. “Thanks for all your help guys.” I shake his hands.

The experience is a mix of emotions that I don’t know how quite to process as I walk back to my car.

Courage is the first thing that comes to mind. I realize how much courage it takes to line up and have a meal at Glide. How much courage it takes to have hope, to move on even when things around you look grim. I realize how tenderness, protection and kindness can be found in unexpected places. It’s all around us. When you feel it and pass it on, it comforts you and others around you. It lifts you and keeps you focused on getting the work done.

We fed 900 people that afternoon.

Glide is the only organization in the west coast that feeds people 3 meals a day, 365 days a year. It’s a special place.

Several of the core Glide volunteers invite me to join them afterwards to eat. They tell me, “you can’t really experience it until you eat the food.” I feel really bad that I’ve left them without sharing a meal together. Hopefully next time. But what they’ve given me is far more profound.

I begin to realize what it means to truly see someone not for who they are but who they hope to be.


By Mai Brehaut
Glide Church (taken by ethosmagazine)



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