I Choose the Chocolate-Covered Broccoli

By Jane Tawel

November 4, 2021

bunch of red cherries in brown bowl
https://unsplash.com/photos/3ANwn-zUfNQ

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I had a super fun reality check today. After all my years and careers in what might be considered “professional professions”, I got a job posting notification supposedly “matching my profile” that I am qualified for the job opening at a hospital of “Cook / Grill – Evening Shift”. I love it! I have no idea how any of my known rubrics could have led them to think this, but it completely tickled my strange little self. Perhaps they sensed I am my Grandma Gladys Cook’s current incarnation? (She spent years cooking for a nursing care home after years of cooking for her four boys and many grandchildren.) Or maybe the hospital algorithm robot finally grew a heart and knew that my heart was always happiest when preparing food for people I care about and love? Either way — maybe it’s a sign I should apply? Reinventing myself is one of my favorite parlor tricks.

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So, even though I have not only been around the block a few times but have been around long before quite a few of the new blocks were even a gleam in a city-planner’s eye, something can still pop-up out of the blue and tickle me pink. Sometimes the randomness of the universe can get me down, but the randomness of a comment can make my day.

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We go through life not always listening to the signals and signs that appear to guide us to a better vision of what our “True Self” has been, is today, and perhaps with nurturing and a little luck, can be tomorrow. But now and then, like a sudden sound that wakes you from a deep sleep, something tickles, or jars, or lands like a bolt from the sky on your understanding of Self, and Life, and All. Sometimes the “bolting upright” is a result of a comment about oneself from a friend or family member. My daughters have been more often than I like to admit very good at making a comment that, like it or not, shakes my view of who I am. Daughters can be good at that if you let them. Good friends can, too. Or maybe you get a serious invitation to apply for a job that really thrills you with the possibility of who you might become, but you are afraid of leaving who you are comfortable being. Maybe instead it is an offer of some kind that slightly unbalances you with an insight of what you have already become. I have found I can be caught unawares by a side note from a coworker I barely know or even a complete stranger who assumes something about me that makes me take another look at my grocery cart or my bad attitude.

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But for us privileged folks who live above the poverty line and not under the threat of bodily harm or mental abuse, we can develop an attitude of listening for signals from beyond one’s self-centeredness. This is not to imply all of us struggle with selfishness but we do all tend to keep our focus on the self that is only a “partial” self. Listening, really, honestly developing an aptitude for quick and deep listening, enables us to hear, even in the seemingly random or silly or anger-making conversations. Hearing  past the surface, can allow me to hear the signals from beyond, calling me to a fuller, truer, more open and whole Self.  Some of us call this attitude of listening intuition, or consciousness, or mindfulness, and some of us just call it God.

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But then it comes to the hard part. The words we read or the comment we hear, just like the sudden sound in the night, may break through our un-listening barriers we have built against the mundane or may scale the walls of the self-defensive attack-mode we adopt as a protection for our vulnerabilities, or it may lift us from the  stuck-in-a-rut-ness most of have fallen into, but just hearing something doesn’t mean we choose to listen to it. The noise may wake me from my spiritual slumber, but I can choose to go back to sleep.

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Sometimes it may seem that we are only offered negative perspective choices – like a choice between eating over-cooked limpid broccoli or slime-encrusted crunchy lima beans. No thank you, to both! Rarely, but sometimes a choice may be hard because you have to choose between the chocolate soufflé or the slice of cherry pie with whipped cream. But hearing something and truly listening to something are such very different things, that we can confuse the positive nutrients with a negative presentation. I remember reading once that sour cherries are just as good for you as the sweet ones. Doesn’t mean I prefer them, but I can still get the health-impacting goodness from them. When I hear something, truly hear it, I far too seldom take the time to calm my mind, steady my will, and open my heart to really listen to it.  And that is true whether it appears yummy or yucky at first. When my daughter says something that opens my eyes, I can choose to open my heart to that (and her) or not. When I read an email from or have a discussion with someone who is asking for something by adopting an attitude of superiority, I can choose to figuratively step away, take some time for silent meditation, and then see through the persons’ posing to the person’s real need for attention or their desperation to feel in control, and then I can choose to sympathize or even empathize. Because we all misspeak sometimes, even if we think we don’t. We all project onto others our needs and fears and hopes and confuse them and ourselves into thinking that we want to be more powerful or smarter or better, when what we always really only want is to feel loved.

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 If I really listen to what is murmuring beyond someone’s posture of grandiosity or anxiety or anger; listen for the tick-tock of the human heart that we who are all lucky enough to still be alive have beating within us, even in those who have covered it over with lots of ego-armor; if I walk in the shoes of someone before I try to rip the carpet out from under them, or dismiss what they have said, then that kind of listening opens up a cosmos of possibility of who they are, and who I am, and who we both might be becoming. In a world that pays little attention to the best of us, too much attention to the worst of us, and no attention at all to the Whole of Us, as that iconic little salesman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”, once said, we are all just trying to make the others understand, “Attention must be paid.”  And on a planet which we have tragically lost control of, to let go of needing to control things, is the first step toward healing ourselves – and possibly the planet as well. 

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 Being made aware of something and choosing to use it for Good are different things. And I have found that I can often choose whether I am going to allow something meant for evil to grow roots in me, or, instead, I will let even the manure of life be used to grow something beautiful. As that amazing Hebrew, Joseph of Egypt told his conniving, lying, cheating, murdering own brothers! – “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for the good of me and many others.” (Genesis 50:20). Think of any hero you greatly admire, and you will probably find that the words and actions that others used against them for evil, were often the very ones the Greats turn into a great good.

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And now, as Monty Python, might approve (and I think Jesus would as well), onto the secret weapon of using something for the good of me and others – the underrated weapon of Humor. I  have found if I put my overly serious self aside, that I can have some fun with something, hopefully not at anyone’s expense but the “anyone” of my False Self, the self that I usually let take things far too seriously. I can, if I listen to the True heartbeat of the world, hear the magic that undergirds Creation, and that is the magical gift of holding things lightly. Learn to listen for the lightness. Listen for the giggles of elves or fairies, the chuckles of God, and the deep rumbling laughter of a universe that knows how small and puny we humans are but delights in us anyway. A comment can make me wiser and a better human but it can also make me simply happier or sillier. Too often I allow things to wriggle, slug-like and anxiously on my life’s plate like a slimy lima bean or I take it in, but I keep rolling it around in my mind like a chokingly bitter hunk of kale on my tongue. It reminds me of seeing people turning-up their noses at food served them, as if it isn’t good enough. But what it feels like to the server is that he is not good enough. Let’s not miss the point of what keeps us truly living. It’s just food, folks, don’t mistake it for meaning. The meaning is in the person who is giving it to you. Psalm 34:8 has a fascinating precursor to the later words of Jesus who asks us to “eat” him. The Psalmist writes, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, how blessed are those who shelter in God.” Think about it: eating God and sheltering in God. That’s an incredible, glorious strange mixed metaphor, even for me. God in us, nourishing our True Self, and God outside of us, sheltering us, serving us, with His Love.

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How often do we gag down a day’s unique moments without ever tasting them? How often do we “take our medicine” like a grown-up but never wash away the bitter aftertaste of a comment or a memory or a mistake? Why do I not take the antacid of peace and joy when Nature or a friend or God offers it to me? Why do I hang on to the stomach-churning anxiety of something I am trying to digest before I have even finished what is on today’s plate of responsibilities or concerns? Sometimes I just have to say to my mind and heart and fledgling soul, “Jane, ole girl, choose to listen for the Good that is inside everything and the Good that is nurturing the world outside. Get out the chocolate syrup hidden in the pantry of your soul and pour that stuff all over life’s liver and onions!”

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So, I was offered to apply to be a “Cook/Grill – Evening Shift”.

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My first job when I was twelve was working at a sort of Christian camp dining hall cafeteria line. I was paid $1.25 per hour – (yeah, we won’t go there right now, ok?) I later was upgraded to work in the snack bar, making $1.75 an hour, where I served ice cream, soft pretzels, and what back then we called “Californians”. A Californian was a drink that had all the different soda pops– Coke, Root beer, Orange, Sprite, Mountain Dew–everything in the soda fountain machine, and they were all mixed together. It was never an exact science in terms of quantities of each and if I had to drink one now, I would probably gag, but back in the day and back in the small town of Indiana where I served sodas and floats and ice cream cones, a Californian was a fun drink, and a “secret” menu item not listed on the overhead menu board with the straight lines of slotted black lettering. I didn’t know then that someday I would live in the Magical Land of California, the number one place in the world for diversity, a land where the greatest mix of peoples, nations, tribes, and beliefs (and probably soda pop types too) are all gathered together in one giant oblong of pieced-together hopes and dreams.

California dreaming
“California dreaming” by Astro_Alex is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Most people wouldn’t know this part, but the job offer I received is especially ironic because my maiden name was Cook. Think about it. I was born a Cook and then became a lot of different things with different names; names like nursing home assistant and personal assistant and assistant to the director and executive assistant (My goodness, I am the “always a bridesmaid, never bride” sort of person – always an assistant?! Oh, the metaphors I could murder in that one.) For a time, I even had a stage name and now my name is Tawel. Sadly, my husband doesn’t find it funny when people pronounce it Towel, but then that is his choice. I find it hilarious.  And so once upon a time this Jane was a Cook, and she was now being offered a look back? a way back? symbolically at least, to being a…. Cook. Or was it a way to circle back around but arrive at a different Cook-Me? It has brought to mind one of my all-time favorite Joni Mitchell songs, one I sang a lot to my kiddos in The Big Bed, and years earlier, sang with my dearest bestest childhood and survivor-in-arms of the yearning pre-teen years, my pal, Lisa. Mitchell calls it “The Circle Game”, and in this Westernized into straight, marching lines world, I long for a world that returns us to the truth of circles.  The well-known refrain, in case you have forgotten goes like this:

And the seasons, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind, from where we came
And go round and round and round, in the circle game

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Oh, it is lovely to still be going round and round on this wonderful carousel of time. It is a privilege to have one more day – one more moment–on this circular conveyor belt of choices. As Mitchel sings, looking at where we have come from can be a fruitful endeavor, as long as we look back ourselves with the Eyes of Love. We don’t have to think all apples have a worm inside (or a snake offering them.) If you get an apple with a worm, eat around it and gently return the worm to the earth. If there really is a Satan behind something someone did to you or does or says today, destroy its power over you by refusing to take it into yourself. There really is evil in the world, just as there is Goodness, but when you sense it, do your best to spit it out. Whenever necessary, use the emetic agent of humor or self-centering self-care or deep breathing, or prayer, or the greatest emetic of all to help vomit out bad things you have swallowed – the cleansing, restorative, health-sharing agent of sharing Love.

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 Remember that old song – “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”? The first part goes like this:

Life is just a bowl of cherries
Don’t take it serious
Life’s too mysterious
You work, you save, you worry so
But you can’t take your dough
When you go, go, go
Keep repeating, it’s the berries

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You never know when you might be offered a job for a “Cook/Grill – Evening Shift”. Of course, on the flip side (get it? Flip it – like a Grill Cook would do? I think I’ve got this job nailed.) – on the flip side, you never know when today might be the day you get offered a job as an angel. And the only thing you can take with you to that job is all the Love you gave away in your last job.

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Bottom line? Choose to live. Live as if there is a surprise, like the perfect center in a piece of chocolate, a joyful response inside you, just waiting for what you are given in your Inbox, in your desk drawer, in your yard, on the sidewalk, or in the words of the person you have just met or the one you have known all your life. Live as if today could be the last day – or it could be the first. Live large. Live free. Live well. Live in all the love you gather up and then share it.

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My first job was serving food and I had many waitressing jobs through the years (I grew up in very gender specific times, so… ) and I did a lot of waiting on tables and taking people’s orders and some jobs in which I was preparing food. (At a deli I used the giant meat slicer thingy which still makes me tremble to think about whenever I look at my intact fingers. Especially because I still call it a “thingy”.). And I had no idea through all the years of food service, as I dreamt of what I really thought I wanted to be which was either a famous movie star or a famous writer, or a famous professor at some big-deal college, that all along I really had this “thing” waiting to be born within me. I had that seed we all have, that longs to grow to a ripe maturity. And mine would never make me famous or rich but would give me the love I had craved since before the beginning of time. And it would not just be a job but a calling; a purpose that was waiting and one that would allow me to give the love that I had had ready to share — ready to burst out of my heart-seams. That job waiting for me to be ready for it, was being a parent. But whether your calling is to be a parent or not, your purpose is to find that place in the world where there is Real Love and your True Self.

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As I mixed the Californians, or took the orders for pastrami on rye, I was being “ripened” for the very most wonderful bestest job I would ever have. And this job would also involve food prep and service,  because the best job I ever, ever had was being a mother, in my very own home, with my children, and my children’s father, and our dogs and rabbits and guinea pigs and lizards and hamsters and serving them all the breakfasts and lunches and dinners and snacks and left-overs and first tastings of books to read, and sights and sounds of new and old places to be in, and imbibings of music to hear, and encompassing, centering, heart-warming snuggles to snuggle, and all the partakings in together of all the love. All the love. All the love.

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When you dream of all the Love—when you hold in your heart and mind’s eye, your own True Self –who are you? Who and what are standing by, ready and willing to serve you your Meaning?

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I am an assistant to The Chef, The One Who has made the whole Banquet. I am merely a “Cook/ Grill – Evening Shift”.  And God said, “it is good. It is very good”.

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I am not a gourmet chef like my husband and some of my friends. I am a cook. Thankfully I am not yet past my sell-by date. Sometimes I still get to do the job I have loved most in the world, and sometimes that job involves my making and serving food for my adult children and my hubby. Sometimes it involves making or serving food to friends, the people who become that family you are allowed to choose, or making baked goods for coworkers or neighbors. And all these folks, family and friends, people I work with or for, give my cooking and my life a greater purpose than merely feeding myself. And because some of these people are the people who are the people I love most of all while riding this whole crazy merry-go-round we call life, I am made better for having opportunities to sometimes be their maker and server of food. Because loving someone with an action to it, is the most wonderful thing in the world. It is, in fact, the only thing that makes everything in the world, better. Even broccoli.

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Every moment I get to be the new and evolving me with the new and evolving people I love and who sometimes bring the people they love and who make me feel both loved and yes, often unsettled, challenged, smarter and wiser, stupider and more needy, comforted, uncertain, yearning and complete, curious and sated — and oh, oh, oh so hopeful—then no matter what job I have at that moment or task finished or left unfinished, or role in other people’s lives, then I am both full and hungry, serving and served, centered, whole, and loved.  This is God, isn’t it? God is hungry and sated, serving and served, and the Maker and Preparer of all the world and all the life and all the Love.

God is the Meaning behind all portions.

If you are searching for a higher purpose or higher calling or Higher Being, you need look no further than the table in front of you. Taste, eat, for it is good.

Chocolate surprise cupcake
“Chocolate surprise cupcake” by Angelina Cupcake is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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When life’s smorgasbord brings bitterness or rottenness, I don’t have to choose it. And sometimes I need to swallow my pride or hurt and say, hey, this can be digested and then used for the good of me. I will also allow myself to enjoy the chocolate crepes and warm apple crisps of being loved by someone. Love bestows on us the nourishment we need. Yes, we really do live in a world of a giant mix of often mixed-up people. But aren’t we all looking down the length of our own life’s table hoping that the Good stuff will be passed around and shared? Isn’t every one of us hoping that someone else will want to share in what we made and declare it, “good”? We can look at our full plates and find better ways of serving others. We can find pleasure in what is on offer in the Now. And we can taste and eat all God has prepared and provided, take it in for our growth, nourishment, and enjoyment.

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Whatever the Banquet of Life offers me today, whether I am serving it up myself, or being offered some insight or slaving over the grilling, hard work of a relationship or just getting a taste of my own medicine from someone else, whenever possible, I will “taste, eat and see” that the Spirit Who not only made and provides the Banquet, but Is the Banquet is Good. And God said, “it is all Very Good. Eat it. Eat Me.”

cooked food on table
https://unsplash.com/photos/1R7iHPt63Lc

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Today I shall attempt to cover my broccoli with sprinkles of Goodness and the sweet honey of Love. I may far too often, need the reality checks of things that are hard to swallow, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sweeten them up with some healing self-reflection, some joy in the journey, some giggles and smiles, and sometimes, let’s be honest, just some literal chocolate. I may not always get to choose my life’s ingredients, but I can choose how to use them and how to dish them up. As Psalm 81:16 assures us, that just as I love to give my loved ones, good things to eat, The Universe, The One Who Is, God, if you will, also longs to give us good things: “But God would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock, She would satisfy you.”

I haven’t the faintest inkling as to why I got a request to apply for a job of Cook/Grill- Evening Shift. “Life’s too mysterious”, as the song goes. But I’m so glad I did. Finding meaning in every ingredient of my life’s own strange casserole is what makes it fun. . Well, that, and the occasional chocolate cupcake.

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© Jane Tawel, November 4, 2021

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“Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”

By Brown Lew and Henderson Ray

Life is just a bowl of cherries
Don’t take it serious
Life’s too mysterious
You work, you save, you worry so
But you can’t take your dough
When you go, go, go
Keep repeating, it’s the berries
The strongest oak must fall
The best things in life to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you never owned
Life is just a bowl of cherries
So live and laugh at it all
Keep repeating, it’s the berries
You know the strongest oak has got to fall
The sweet things in life to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you never owned
Life is just a bowl of cherries
So live it, love it, wriggle your ears
And think nothing of it, you can’t do without it
There’s no two ways about it
You live and you laugh at it all

Live your life today – it’s the best offer you are ever  going to get. – Shalom, Jane

©November 2021, Jane (Cook) Tawel

Published by

Jane Tawel

Still not old enough to know better. I root around and explore ideas in philosophy, spirituality, poetry, Judeo-Christian Worldview, family, relationships, and art. Often torn between encouragement & self-directed chastisement, I may sputter, but I still keep trying to move forward.

5 thoughts on “I Choose the Chocolate-Covered Broccoli”

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