“Here they come,” I think to myself as that familiar heat creeps into the corners of my eyes. I blink to fight them back, but it’s no use. The salty tears well up. I can’t hold them back anymore. Down they run, tracing wet lines over my cheeks only to pool again at the edge of my mask. I dare not wipe them away. Instead I let them pour. There is nothing to stop them now…and no need. Sometimes you just need to let the tears fall.
Onions will do that.
But so will 2020. And pandemics. And civil unrest. And a presidential election. And lost jobs and lost trust and lost hope.
Sometimes the burning starts way back in the corners of your eyes while you try to keep your hands busy. While you try to keep moving as quickly as possible. But it always, always overwhelms you. Nothing holds back the stinging reality that this year has been painful and the odor of it clings to everything…and brings us to tears.
Even if you’re like me, and you’ve found great joy in the chaos, that doesn’t change the truth that a heavy fog has fallen on the land and in our hearts. Some bear the emotional weight better than others. Some hear the TV in the other room, but push it to the back of their mind. Others see toilet paper shelves bare again, yet move on down the aisle. For some, the hundreds of signs along the road are a colorful addition to the fall leaves. For others, the rush to usher in Christmas was a welcome distraction.
But you notice.
At night, when you watch the daily numbers, or read the biting comments, or see the meltdowns of children on computers, or snap the thin straw of your spouse’s back…again…the burning returns, and the tears well up, and the fear grips your heart, and suddenly it’s hard to breathe. You can fight the tears, but eventually they do fall, the breakdowns happen, the onion peels back, and it stings and it stinks and it clings to everything. Even the twinkling decorations you put up early in hopes…
In hopes that what?
That a president would bring peace on earth?
That a cloth mask would hold back an army?
That unrest would bring order and that typed words would change bitter hearts?
Or that bright lights and full coffers would bring back normal?
I cut up my purple onions today because, as I was asking God what my city needed right now, he whispered, “they need hope.” They don’t need Christmas, they don’t need a cure, they don’t need normal…they need hope.
But sometimes hope comes in the strangest of ways. And today, it comes in a recipe that reflects everything this year has been: stinking, stinging, and bitter. So bear with me. There’s a point to all of this…
First, you slice up one whole purple onion. And the stinging burns your eyes and the tears pour down your face and you smell it on your hands for hours. Then you bring half a cup of apple cider vinegar, a cup of water, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt to a boil. And the whole house is filled with the stench, and it permeates your skin, and your clothes, and your family will gag and complain. You long to pour it all into a jar and seal the lid on tight and push it as far back into the refrigerator as it will possibly go and vow not to open it for 24 hours. After that you’ll immediately wash your dishes and scrub your hands until they’re pink, but the stench will cling to your skin and your eyes will burn forever. And you’ll do everything you can to get that smell out of your house because it’s awful and it stinks and it’s not right and it’s not normal and it burns and it hurts and your eyes ache from the reality of the fog you live in. Sound familiar?
But the next day, you’ll pull out that little jar. And the smell will have passed. The purple skins will have turned the liquid into the most beautiful, bright, unicorn pink that you have ever seen. And all of that bitterness will have transformed those onions into something otherworldly. The very things that brought you to tears before, will now bring life to everything you put them on and will actually take away the bitterness that created them! Those sweet onions will cut through the heaviness of burgers. That pop of color and flavor will brighten and bolden a simple salad. And your gorgeous holiday charcuteries will be perfected by pink, crunchy ribbons of goodness.
Because in the end, they are good.
So thank you, 2020. You stink. You are full of bitterness and suffering. You cling to all good things with the intent to destroy. You have brought more tears and death and despair and disappointment than anything this generation has ever experienced. And what sucks is, you don’t intend to go anywhere. Nothing will change the trajectory of your course.
But we…? We will not lose hope.
It won’t be because everything will magically get better. It won’t. (There, I said it.) People will die. Hearts will harden. Brothers will remain divided. And the fog will not just blow away with the rising of the sun.