A few months after my husband died a very good friend of mine invited me over for Sundubu (Tofu) jjigae (Korean Stew.) The short definition of Sundubu is a “hot and spicy Korean stew made with…tofu…vegetables, mushrooms, onion, scallions, and chili powder.” (Wikipedia.com) Once the stew is boiling a raw egg is dropped into the dish, and the stew is served with rice.
Let’s consider these ingredients.
Tofu. The main ingredient. Not so appealing on its own. I mean, does anyone seriously eat tofurky for Thanksgiving dinner? But tofu is what my life looked like. I was numb for weeks, months. Everything tasted bland. Then entered my friend and I realized there is still flavour in the world. It is everything else that is added to the tofu stew that makes it worth eating.
Some days I feel like a tofurky. Lifeless, colourless, flavourless. Perhaps even a bit pale and dull to look at. I lounge around in my jogging pants and watch movies, trying to live through someone else’s life. Then a friend comes along, like this friend of mine, and offers to add some flavour. A night out here, a creative project there, a deep conversation in the inbetweens. Soon jokes, laughter and tears are sprinkled throughout. This brings me to the next ingredient.
Onions. Onions are an integral part of any dish. We cut them up, separate the layers that keep the bulb together, and next thing you know we’re in tears. Like any good friendship that is opened enough, the tears release what’s bottled, and as the tears pour out the healing trickles in. I look back over the past many months with this friend and I see the onions in our stew. The things that have made us both cry. The onions allowed me to cry out my grief, and enabled me to carry my friend’s as well. Onions are a must. The stew of life is worth consuming when our tears are poured into the broth.
Mushrooms. What to make of a mushroom. A food, yet so earthy. But this earth-worn woodsy fungi reminds me of the health of taking a hike once in a while. A hike from my negativity, or the confines of my house. Whether mentally, or physically, finding a trail outdoors and attempting a new adventure can be both freeing and invigorating. My favourite time to hike is in the fall. Wet fallen leaves under foot. Fresh crisp air fills my lungs. Hiking makes me feel alive and grateful to be in a place where I can enjoy the natural beauty of the earth.
Vegetables. Colourful and nutritious. Healthy for the spirit, and good for the heart. I love the colour of vegetables. When I paint, or write stories, or create just about anything, as a visual thinker I am continually pulled in by the colour of life. Tempted to consume it, digest it, and let it nourish my being.
Then there is the chili powder. Hot and spicy. I may be a widow but I’m only 32. Wait, 33 as of two days ago…33 and I got carded less than a week ago! The spice of life awakens my senses in exciting ways. Reminds me that I’m a woman and I am young. It’s all a matter of perception. Desires still exist in me that otherwise are pushed down by the practicality of my existence, until the chili powder comes out!
But we can not live on spice alone, and vegetables, as lovely as they are will not sustain us. Really its protein that sustains us best.
During those first few months after my husband died I did not eat a lot. In fact I lost 20 pounds in just a few months. I was numb for so long that when I finally felt hunger I enjoyed the feeling because it meant that I was feeling something. My friend put an extra egg in my Sundubu dish. My friend knew that although the hunger made me feel something, the sustenance of hunger is hollow. Air can not keep us on our feet for long. We need nourishment, something we can sink our teeth into. Good conversation, love, friendship. Gifts that are not so easily broken down. These are the proteins of life.
Countless conversations took place over the many months that followed Neil’s death. Conversations that I could hold on to, and mull over, or wrestle with. Solid friendships and rekindled spirits have made my life look a little less like tofurky, and a lot more like an inviting bowl of Sundubu jjigae.