I have moved to the couch for the early evening. The last couple of days have gone by with me lounging mostly in bed: not quite in bed: on top of it, looking out onto the back garden and my straggly and surprisingly successful veggie patch through a double door swung fully open, against a vast stack of pillows and cushions, my knees supported by more, my laptop by yet another on my healing belly. Standard advice for healing after an abdominal hysterectomy is to hold a pillow over the incision and press down when you cough, sneeze or laugh, so that has come in handy.
I am lying here, listening to my husband trying out a new tune on his alto sax: he sometimes plays the alto, though really his instrument is the tenor sax these days. He used to play the oboe like an angel, years ago when I first noticed him, and long before he noticed me. I often marvel at how our lives intersect others’ and sometimes come together in a powerfully meaningful way, but that is the topic of quite another conversation.
This conversation is about soup. Particularly since there is a pot of lentil soup bubbling on the biggest burner of my gas stove, cooker, as the English will say. I know, it’s really only just autumn, and I am already making soup? And not the summer soups like gazpacho or vichyssoise, but a full bodied brown lentil soup. When I say that I am making it, it’s somewhat inaccurate too. Recovering from a hysterectomy also means no heavy housework, including heavy chopping and lifting of full kettles or pots. So earlier, I directed my husband to chop onions(which he did tonight without wearing his swimming goggles), and celery, and carrots and potatoes, so that all I needed to do was to fry the soffrito, add the lentils, and stock and come and lie on the sofa, and listen to him play, and muse about soup.
I have always loved soup. I grew up with chunky vegetable soup with at least two thick cut marrow in beef shins to add flavour. That was my mother’s version of vegetable soup. And my idea of vegetable soup for a very long time, until I discovered cooking. I remember that I loved her soup, bar the floating strips of curled up tomato skins: she always cut up raw tomato into the soup. My twin(non identical in almost every conceivable way) hated chunky soup: my mom had to strain her soup, and, guess what? I greedily asked for her solids to be scooped into my bowl. I just loved the texture on my tongue and in my mouth. I still do.
But I also have developed a taste for clear broths, delicately flavoured, with not a speck of even parsley in sight: maybe at most an artful leaf of coriander in the eastern inspired, gingery infusions sipped hot from a handmade ceramic bowl. Or an earthy extraction of simply potato, celery, carrot, bay leaf, garlic and herbs: almost a vegetable stock really, which can be exquisite in it’s simplicity: served as a starter or as nourishing food for the really sick. When my mother was dying of cancer in my house 12 years ago, today marking the day of her death, I made sure that I had a constant soup on the boil, which I would put through a sieve and feed tiny spoonfuls to her, until she could no longer eat anything. I found that I still had a voracious appetite at the time, and felt almost ashamed that I had whatever was left over, plus the solids, sometimes in the middle of the night as I took a break from the bedside vigil, almost to remind myself that I am still alive and healthy.
I am still alive and healthy, if somewhat incapacitated at the moment. I am astounded in moments at my body’s capacity to heal: a knife was taken to my lower abdomen, and I have survived! Is that not rather miraculous?
And here I am, ready for a bowl of not quite seasonal lentil soup, a heel of parmesan added by my husband when I remembered to instruct him to add that about an hour ago. It has been hard to abandon the cooking to him: not because he is a bad cook: in fact, he cooks very well. But it’s more about asking: will you take out the pot for me from the bottom drawer; will you chop the celery for me; will you check the soup for salt: all these things I have been doing so automatically and easily and lovingly all along.
Now I am forced by my body to take it easy, to ask, to receive. A good primer for letting go and letting be towards the end of time.