Earlier this evening, I cooked broccoli cheddar soup for the first time.
When I was commuting to Downtown Los Angeles, broccoli cheddar soup was my favorite comfort food. I would get one for lunch from the now-closed Subway on 5th and Hill, even though the lines were always too long and I would end up downing the hot soup too fast. If I didn’t have it for lunch, I would have it for early dinner. Back then, I should’ve been taking the bus with multiple transfers home, but sometimes I would convince my father to pick me up from the train station in North Hollywood. In return, I would wait for him to join me at the Panera where I would treat him to a shared bowl of broccoli cheddar soup.
It became our thing. Papa loved the broccoli cheddar soup too. We would get it from Panera, or on the weekends, from the Subway close to our apartment on Sepulveda. We would take turns bringing the soup home when we could afford to or when we were having a stressful day. It was always a comforting meal, hearty and filling.
One Saturday morning, my brother Jabez and I had worship team rehearsal. It was my brother’s turn to lead the worship team for the following day’s service. Papa, who was a pastor, had been very sick with the flu all week. Otherwise, he would’ve probably been at church with us the whole morning too. Before we left the house, I asked him what he wanted us to bring him home for a late lunch. “Broccoli cheddar soup… from Subway”, was the request.
I have a vivid recollection of walking to the car from the Sepulveda/Nordhoff Subway with two orders of the soup that afternoon. It seemed like the most ordinary day. It would’ve been entirely forgettable. But even now, I can picture him quietly eating the soup on our counter-height, four-person dining table. He was glad that I brought him two portions. I remember that he seemed so sick and tired. He was a non-insulin-dependent diabetic so he shouldn’t have had more than one portion of the soup – if any at all. Yet he looked so satisfied with his food that I remember feeling just a bit relieved that it seemed to make his difficult week a little better. It was just like a regular, ordinary weekend. He had his lunch and went back to bed.
Papa passed away that night. The very next day, my brother led our whole grieving congregation to worship, choosing to praise God in the worst moment of his life. My brother was and still is a worshipper. He immediately responded with praise, even when it was impossibly hard to. What better way to celebrate and focus on eternity than to glorify God, as we would do forever?
I, on the other hand, stopped eating broccoli cheddar soup. For months after, my father’s passing had a crippling effect on me while also causing my rationalizations to spin out of control. In hindsight, I think I was terrified of the gnawing idea that maybe, just maybe, the soup might have been what made Papa worse that night. I knew that was a lie but even so, the soup was no longer a source of comfort. Thinking about how I won’t get to share soup with Papa ever again was now bringing me the exact opposite of hearty cheer. I was always sure I’ll be with Papa again. I was still confident we would share joyful times again. But I was grieving the earthly moments that were not to be repeated. Objects like broccoli cheddar soup belong to the ordinary, regular weekends of our lives that dissipate like vapor with each passing breath. The soup had once brought me good memories and comfort. It was filling and satisfactory for a season, then it was gone.
For four years, I didn’t eat broccoli cheddar soup. I’m sure it was that long because the day I ordered it again for the first time, I took a photo of the bowl and therefore got a timestamp. We were at Panera when I decided that I was ready to have our favorite soup again. Besides, I thought, Panera’s soup would be a more comfortable “entry” back than Subway. Eating that soup filled me with all the warmth and happiness and longing I knew it would. Right there, at that Panera Bread, I cried tears of joy and sadness over a bowl of soup. I missed it so much. It felt good to have it again.
And I miss my Papa. Two weeks from today would be the 6th year since he passed. I still miss him every day. Our lives look so different nowadays. We are in a different state, and we have a dining table that fits eight. Chynna is about to graduate middle school. Jabez is a father. Every day, he and Liddy would send us a photo of my niece, Bethany. There are still many moments when I wish Papa were with us, especially when we are at our happiest – like when we spent our first Christmas with Bethany last month. But the longing for what was and never will be again don’t have to overshadow the present “is”. Nowadays, the sadness is quickly replaced with strong, gentle assurance. God has turned our mourning into dancing. In six years, he has not failed in giving us reasons, both eternal and temporary, to carry on and carry on well.
I even started eating broccoli cheddar soup from Subway again, just this year. Two weeks ago, I called Miguel to request broccoli cheddar soup from Subway for lunch. It was as good as I remember and since then I’ve been asking him to get it for me almost every other day. After having to make a few trips, Miguel gently nudged me, “Why don’t you just learn to make it yourself?”.
Thus, tonight’s dinner. If you’ve ever made broccoli cheddar soup, then you know it’s no impressive culinary feat. But I’ll take the win. I did cry tonight eating my homemade soup, but tomorrow, I’m bringing some soup to share with others at the church luncheon.
Perhaps, for now, the broccoli cheddar soup lives on.
As some of you have read on last week’s blog, I’m attempting to write 52 posts this 2019. We are still rusty, but we’re taking it a week at a time. This is post #2/52.