“Stew is loosely defined as a dish that is made of distinctively, diverse parts which are boiled or simmered with spices over a long period of time, until a flavorful, tender mesh of goodness is produced. It can be made with meats, vegetables, or legumes, or fruits. Every group, culture, or sub-culture has a stew. Each individual has a stew.” -Jennifer M. Jones
Recently, I was making Sunday Stew, and began to reflect. Sunday Stew is a chicken stew that my Mother and Grandmother made quite often, usually on Sundays. It’s made of chicken, stock, onions, celery, carrots, seasonings, and a creamy roux. It’s not a pretty stew; however, it’s a simple stew that simmers until the chicken falls off of the bone and is ready to be served in a favorite bowl, over rice with a side of sliced tomatoes. I make this stew at home on Sundays, allowing its warm, nostalgic aroma to build, slowly. Poignantly. It invites me in, embraces me, renews me, reminds me of who I am, from where I come, what It’s all about. Everything is alright when that stew is stewing. It’s mine.
A large, sweet onion is a necessary ingredient of Sunday Stew. While making it, I often consider the onion and what it represents. The aroma alone conjures up memories of my grandmother’s hands, they were always scented of a celery and sweet onion blend, as they touched my face. I would watch use those hands to chop piles of these onions, for various meals, pausing for moments as the fumes overwhelmed her senses.
I have always been aware that onion layers contain potent fumes which bring tears to eyes. I recall how as a kid, just beginning to cook , I attempted challenging what I knew to be true about the onion. Resisting the cry, I’d turn my head, run water over the onion, or refrigerate it and slice it cold. Other times, I’d dive on into the chopping, dicing, mincing, process overpowered by my need to shed tears, quickly wiping the tears and tossing the onions into my stew, roast, or salad.
On this one particular Sunday, as I peeled the onion, I noticed its layers, and how they were a metaphor for Life’s layers. I began considering the great triumphs and equal failures or disappointments that have shaped who “I am”, what I present to the world, my perception. Like the onion, some of the layers were fresh, beautiful and worthy of keeping for my stew. Some were wilted, dried, or rotten and would serve my stew no purpose.
I continued to peel, finally reaching the core, the bulb. Rolling it in my hands, I observed how it had remained unaffected by the state of all of the layers that covered it. It was smooth, strong, fragrant. Useful. I pulled my knife across the onion, and as the fumes escaped, my eyes filled. This onion was so intoxicating that my eyes began running over with tears. But I couldn’t stop, I had to keep going, as I could smell the chicken and seasonings simmering in the butter, signaling the right time to add the onions and celery (they can’t be added too early or they’ll overcook and lose the value of their flavor).
I didn’t stop the tears nor turn away. No, this time, I allowed the tears to run. I accepted them as they rinsed my eyes of the fumes of misunderstandings, hurts, mistreatments, miscommunications, misdirection, misbehaviors, misfortune and all of the other misses which have resulted from or in my lack of seeing. Seeing, that just like that onion, my Core is firm, fresh, fit to lend its energizing flavor to my stew if I choose to use it. It is unaffected by and unconcerned with the layers that are not useful; only aware that they were all a part of the onion, and necessary to its growth and sweetening. It knows that when those layers become anything less that fit for my life story, my stew, it’s okay to let them go.
Some work painstakingly hard at peeling the onion to get to its good parts. Others, we have a moment when we realize that as we have grown, the more weathering we have faced, the onion has been preparing to be peeled and used, as it naturally does. In fact, we learn that the layers have been slowly releasing for a long time with each lesson endured. But we’ve worked so hard to slow or stop it, fearing that the what’s in that pot isn’t ready for our flavor, or our core could possibly be rotten, or perhaps other people just won’t like our stew.
The truth is, the moment we are fearless enough to allow that onion to peel, we get a glimpse of the Truth. That by no longer allowing the useless hinder the useful, we recognize our permission to utilize its fragrant, bold, and perfect flavor. When that’s added to that pot, the stew becomes so inviting, so comforting that people will leap at an opportunity to sit at our table and marvel in the richness of our stew, accented by the sweetness of that onion.