Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cracking the Shell and Exposing the Heart

Lucia, the Sicilian Buttercup, Looks for the Heart in the Matter.    c. Shobe Biz Communications

About six months ago, I discovered the magazine Lucky Peach at the checkout counter of my favorite deli while I was paying for lunch.

"You have to get this magazine," said Anne, the deli owner. "It's the best foodie magazine I've ever seen."

I trust Anne. She's careful about the products she sells. She imports many of her foods from the finest purveyors in Italy and Greece. Her passion for providing top-notch cuisine is evidenced by the crowds that flock to her deli for breakfast and lunch.

"I've never seen this magazine before," I confessed. As a magazine junky, I'm pretty aware of what's out there. But, this was something new, something fresh, something deliciously different.

I lifted Lucky Peach up out of its acrylic rack and began flipping through the pages. It had tantalizing graphic pages and the writing was great. Lucky Peach was like taking a eye-candy walk through a gourmet food park.

"The magazine's not cheap," Anne confessed, "but it's worth every penny."

So, I bought the first edition and devoured it. Every article was deliciously good.

Recently, I purchased the fourth edition, spurred on by the title of an article inside, On Eggs, by Harold McGee (illustrations by Tony Millionaire). Harold McGee is an American culinary writer who writes about the chemistry of food and cooking. He's also a published author noted for his books On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes.

In On Egg, McGee talks about the art of the easy peel hard boiled egg. As chicken owners, most of us know that the fresher the egg, the harder it is to peel. But, do we know why? I didn't until McGee shed some light.

McGee stated, "Freshly laid eggs slowly lose moisture and carbon dioxide through their porous shells, and the loss of carbon dioxide causes their whites to become more alkaline. The pH of the egg white of the freshly laid egg starts out at a slightly alkaline 7.5. Food scientists have found that when the pH rises above 9, the egg becomes easy to peel. Apparently, the change in pH makes the egg-white proteins adhere less strongly to the thin, tough membrane attached to the inner surface of the shell, but we still don't know how or why."

McGee further stated that the required change in pH takes only a couple of days at room temperature but it takes two weeks or longer to happen in the refrigerator.

In essence, colder temperatures means it takes longer to properly peel an egg.

Isn't the same thing true for people?

The colder the people with whom we surround ourselves the longer it takes for us to reveal ourselves?

Over the last two weeks, I have had the good fortune to participate in a nonprofit retreat and a writers workshop. Both served as reminders that it takes genuine warmth and tender care for people to shed their shells . When people feel safe, they'll open up. And, when they open up, the energy of the group shifts and changes. The weighty hardness of life magically dissipates into a lightness of being. It's as if everyone in the room can finally breathe.

Wounds create heaviness; love creates lightness.

In all forms of spirituality, no matter what religion, there is a huge emphasis on the heart. In Sanskrit, the heart is represented as the fourth chakra and the colors of pink or green. The fourth chakra governs the heart, circulatory system, blood, lungs, rib cate, diaphragm, thymus, breasts, esophagus, shoulders, arms, and hands.

Perhaps this is why we our when our heart's broken, our chest physically hurts.

My father-in-law was a witty man, the kind who could command the attention of nearly everyone in the room with his intellect and humor. He was also difficult and demanding. His brilliant wit could turn acerbic in a twist of minute.

He and I were close. I reveled in his word play. He in mine. He also looked like the dashing Jimmy Stewart, an actor who I adored in the movie It's a Wonderful Life. I felt easy around my father-in-law. I felt light.

He lived to a ripe old age, as commanding of the Earth's time as he was of people's attention. And, he had the good fortune to meet his demise surrounded by the love of his wife, family and friends.

As Jack lay dying on his bed, I carried on a conversation with him, one consisting of touch more than words. I stroked his arms and held his hands. I watched as the lack of circulation advanced from his extremities to his core. I heard the death breath rattle in his chest. I thanked him for being a decent and caring man and told him that all was well and he could move on. I kissed his cheek and said goodbye.

As his breath grew shallower, so did mine.

My chest heaved with asthmatic breaths, as if a thousand chickens roosted on it.  I had never experienced anything like it before. I called my doctor and she rushed me in. "Your severely asthmatic," she warned, "And, moments away from getting checked in to the hospital." She prescribed an inhaler, antibiotics and bed rest. My breath only slightly improved during the following weeks--grief still rested heavily upon me.

My love for him and the loss of him had cracked my shell. It had opened me up to the pain of having to say goodbye. His death instilled in me a greater appreciation for love and understanding of life.

I was reminded of this, again, in a mystical way, when many years later, my father passed.

Throughout my life, I've been "Daddy's little girl", a role I reveled in. I always looked to my Dad as my wise Buddha, a sage who taught me the many meanings of life. He coached me as a leader would but loved me as only a father could. He let me fail and let me win. And, he taught me the the meaning of authenticity.  "Every morning when you get up, make sure you can look at yourself in the mirror," he used to say.

My father had a long illness that gave us plenty of time to say our loving goodbyes.  On the actual day he passed away, I was at home 2,000 miles away, watching TV, a TV that sat on the marbled top of an antique chest. On either side of the long chest, were two beveled doors that opened to shelves inside. The doors were always closed because I had no reason to open them. The chest's shelves were bare.

On the night my father died, before I had received my Mother's call, I noticed that one of the doors of the chest was ajar. I turned to my partner and said, "Were you looking for something in the chest?" He said no, that he hadn't been near it and asked me why. I said, "Because the side door's open and it's never been open before." I got up from the couch, went to the chest and pushed the door closed. Then, I sat back down on the couch. A few minutes later, the door popped open, again. I turned to my partner and said, "That's so weird. There's nothing inside. I wonder why the door keeps popping open."

The phone rang. It was my Mother. "Dad just passed away," she said. We cried together as she recounted his last moments.  I remember looking at the clock. 9:35 p.m. My father-- my wise and loving father who I adored -- was dead. I would no longer see the twinkle of his blue eyes or hear the sweet melody of his voice calling out my name. The warmth of his hug was dead to me. His spirit was in me, but the sight, sound and feel of him was no more. Life would never be the same.

I sat on the couch and cried and cried. My partner held me close and comforted me. He sat with me in my silence as my memories of my father hung from my mind like ornaments on a Christmas tree. My partner gifted me silence to bask in my grief.

Before he and I rose to go to bed, I went to the chest and tried to push the door closed again. It wouldn't close all the way. I bent down to look inside.There was a tip of a red heart poking into the door. What is that, I wondered? I opened the door all of the way and discovered a big heart-shaped box filled with chocolates. It was seven months past Valentines Day. What was a full box of chocolates doing on the always empty shelf?

I asked my partner if he had left the box there. He said he had no idea why that box was there. I didn't have any memory of putting that heart-shaped box of chocolates in the chest. And, if I had months before, why hadn't it prevented the door from closing until just now?

I sat on the floor, gripping the heart-shaped box of chocolates to my chest and cried. My Dad had sent his final message, stay in your heart.

The heart-shaped box still resides on the shelf of the antique chest. It's a reminder to me to stay true to my heart. And, it's a reminder to me to be courageous in giving my heart.  Because it is only by creating a warm and loving environment for those around us--and for ourselves--that we can crack the hard shells of life's wounds and be authentically true and real. And, what a lightness to life that brings.

Harold McGee, the food writer, may have said it best when he wrote in his article, "I realized that the shell is the main obstacle to changing the chemical environment within."

Perhaps it's time to crack open your shell and gift your heart?

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