With so much bad news out there, sometimes the holidays felt like an exercise in cognitive dissonance to me. Gun violence, climate change deniers, the ever-present din of misogyny and racism (Jesus, the Tamir Rice grand jury), the unbelievable waste we generate as American consumers, infuriating corporate recklessness (fracking and DuPont are contributors to the landscape we revisited), and yes, the scapegoating of refugees and immigrants—all these broke through my attempts at Holly Jollyness and made it seem . . . not hollow. Just dissonant instead of harmonic. Disconnected instead of joined. Did this happen to you, too?
I still had plenty of moments where that menacing soundtrack receded and the joy shone through, and I’m extra grateful for those. Watching Sophia lay her head in her grandmother’s lap as they chatted on the sofa. Overhearing cackles from the kids table. Cousins giving rollerskating lessons in my parents’ basement. Stella’s giggles of delight with the dog. Chatting and laughing with J and my folks by candlelight after the power went out and turned off the TV for us. Those were all worth driving many miles for, and we’re so glad we did. I still somehow ended the holidays needing an injection of hope, something more to cling to than my resolutions to organize my pantry and drink more smoothies.
Many miles later, still stuffed with Christmas cookies and breakfast sausage, tired and laden with gifts, we pulled into a driveway covered with two inches of ice that even our neighbors couldn’t tackle for us. The next morning I set out with the girls to fill the empty fridge and chip away at the driveway, while poor J took to bed, the latest victim of the stomach bug that always seems to find us on this trip. In the midst of this harsh re-entry, our smiling neighbor Cinzia showed up. Her little boy was pulling a red wagon, delivering lentil soup. They just figured we had come home to an empty fridge and could use some.
How beautiful and perfectly unexpected! This, to me, is the truest expression of kindness: filling a need that you had to look carefully to even find. The soup was amazing, so I pressed her for the recipe, then promptly made and delivered a batch for a family dealing with an illness. (We made oatcakes, too, of course.) I’m presenting it to you here with this instruction: find someone who needs it and share it with them.
It’s so small, this gesture. I’m not saying it’s enough, and I’m not saying it’s all we have, but I am saying it’s a step worth taking in a long and perpetual journey to healing the world. If you’re looking for hope, it’s possible to manufacture some in your own kitchen, in your own heart.
The kids, of course, are hope machines. They overflow with hope and joy and possibility, and they’re the reason for not giving up on any of it, and they’re the hope for fixing what’s gotten so twisted and inhumane. I found a much-needed dose of January hopefulness when I brought Sophia and her friend Sophie to their Local Chorus rehearsal. I choked back tears listening to 40 little kids singing “this little light of mine/ I’m gonna let it shine” and “when I find myself in times of trouble/ Mother Mary comes to me” and then laugh with joy at they way they belt out: “It’s the hammer of justice! It’s the bell of freeeeee-edom! It’s a song about love! between! my brothers and my sisters! Aaaallll over this LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!”
You know, the word Amen can be translated as “let it be” or “so be it.” Well, Amen to all that.
People of January, let’s find some kids to listen to. And let’s make some soup for people. Keep your spark alive in this gray time, and look, look, look for ways to fan the flame.
You have your marching orders. Make and share. Cinzia’s a marvelous, intuitive cook, so she gave me this recipe as just a list of ingredients; I’ve adapted the quantities and such, but it’s a very flexible recipe and could handle plenty of variations. As written, it serves at least 8.
1/3 cup olive oil (I probably should’ve gone for the 1/2 cup, since Cinzia wrote “lots of olive oil” and she is Italian)
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped carrots
1.5 cups chopped celery
6 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
3 cups lentils (I used french green lentils, but brown work too)
15-ounce can diced tomatoes (Cinzia used chopped cherry tomatoes, which I think would be sweeter and fresher!)
2 tsp sea salt
2 quarts water (or 1 quart vegetable broth and 1 quart water)
5 sprigs of fresh thyme tied with string (optional)
Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in the olive oil until your house smells heavenly, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 3 more minutes or so. Add the lentils, tomatoes, salt, water/broth, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, partially covered, for an hour (or if you are using a dutch oven with a nice heavy lid, you can put that lid on and transfer your pot to a 350 degree oven). Share.