My wife had been begging, or was it bugging, me, to write a book. My regular response was, “There is nothing new under the sun. It’s all been said.” Then she’d say – so wisely – that “maybe there’s nothing new in your discoveries, but nobody can say it quite like you, because no one’s been BLESSED with the same TENDER MERCIES (referring to that Tender film) as you have,” all the wonderful people who have taught me about Loving and Living and Dying and Suffering with Joy.
One such Mercy was the man into whose hands my parents placed me almost 50 years ago, Father Jude Duffy, Cappuccino. Lucky me, to find this Irish Pot o Gold, who insisted that we seminarians learn independence, namely to do everything on our own, including cooking. i became quite the baker and learned to put together a “mean soup!” Yummmm! But, now i see what the wife is saying, “It’s Time to Make a ZUPPA di VIT!!”
Ha, ha! Yes, my wife is pure Italian. She knows a good zuppa, when she sees one. Her family is “Nabalidan!” (Neopolitan/of Naples), and they have this funny habit of killing their beautiful language. It sounds like they are all in this big hurry, so they chop word after word to pieces like onions or garlic, thus creating, for example, Zuppa d’Vit, the Soup of Life! It’s as if their words are in a hurry to be heard.
Hey, maybe she’s right! Maybe they ARE right, this great batch of Napolitans! Life is so short. My wife’s mother and father and brother ALL died very young to affirm that fact. And, well, look at me, at 62 carrying cancer and lung disease, arthritis and tinnitus. My own dear dad did not make it much further than me. If i’m gonna make this soup, i’d better get to it.
The ZUPPA of which i speak, of course, is not made of onions, potatos, tomatos, chicken, steak, or pesce, but of human lives, the ones i’ve been so blessed to encounter. (It is not about me, by the way, i’m just the mixer and the sharer.) There are countless recipes around the world for great meals, and countless recipes for good, successful, HAPPY lives. My hand will be very liberal with the laughter and with the tears. When i was 12, there was a guy named Rudy Martinez who called himself Question Mark, and with his garage rock n roll band, the Mysterians, he had one big hit called “96 Tears.” Well, that would be me and my soup…at least 96 doses of crocodile tears to spice it up right, but right on top of them 106 spoonfuls of laughter, and i mean big belly laughs!
A wonderful example is my wife’s cousin, Denise Knight. i have written about her before in this blog. A victim of a massive stroke about 25 years ago, she was TOLD BY DOCTORS (as if it’s theirs to tell) that hers would be a “NO Life,” she’d never be a “productive, viable member of society again,” as she was paralyzed over half of her body. BUT WHAT DO THEY KNOW??? Definitely NOT DENISE! She’s proven them wrong every day since. And i often say that her secret is her uncanny ability to laugh and to cry at the same time, thereby REALLY MIXING THE MIX. It’s like baking bread or cake. Unless it is really stirred and thoroughly blended, you are gonna have yucky chunks, that are both ugly and foul-tasting. The MIXING IS AN ART UNTO ITSELF, and Life has not shown me many mixers like Denise.
OF COURSE there was GIGI STELLA, just about the purest example of Tender Mercy i’ve ever known, one of my wife’s enormous supply of aunts, each one a master-blend of the finest “spices of life.” Gilda was “the doll-baby” of them all, perfect love blended to perfection by a tough life, the worst of which came in her later years when she was totally mangled by arthritis. She could not come to our wedding, so we made our most important stop that day by “the CHURCH OF GIGI.” My wife herself, my Brigida, has now inherited some of her aunt’s miseries, but having also inherited her faith and hope and love – and having Gigi as her personal angel – my wife is one of these MASTER-BLENDERS of JOY and SORROW whose stories i am now so anxious to tell. As a little cappuccino i learned from St. Francis that the Greatest Gift Life has to offer is called “Perfect Joy,” the kind that comes when things just won’t go the way we’d hoped. A Cross Comes Instead, but with it all the Might of the Lord to help us “Lug it for Love…and FOR JOY!” Like Gig and Dee and Brigida and so many others i’ve known, i embrace my own one day at a time.
So, these are my ingredients, and this is my ZUPPA di VIT! And this is what i have decided to offer to, to dedicate to, Pope Francis in his Joyful Jubilee of Mercy. Like a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” mine is full of healing and strengthening properties which might serve the Holy Father well in his Church, which he now sees as “a field hospital dressing and addressing the wounded souls of the world.” My wife is so right! It would be a crying shame for me not to share these stories…of Mercy dressed in flesh and blood.
So, Mangia! Eat and enjoy. L’Chaim! To Life!