I grew up hearing rumors and magical tales testifying to the fact that chicken soup was a cure-all for whatever ails you. The common cold. Sore throats. The flu. Unexplained aches and pains. Even feeling down in the dumps.
Most of the chicken soup I sampled growing up came out of a can or a box. It rarely included any discernable pieces of real chicken or what I would now classify as real vegetables, as contrasted with the somewhat mushy, fairly tasteless entities that were added to canned soup as an afterthought. The salt content alone was probably enough to elevate one’s blood pressure into the red zone. Still, despite the limitations of canned chicken soup, I would eagerly slurp it down and there were definitely times it brought me comfort.
Earlier this year I had a bout of pneumonia that tested my patience as well as my lungs. During the first few weeks, drained of energy and violently coughing, it was all I could to get off of the couch, make even the simplest of meals and take care of basics like laundry and taking out the garbage.
Part of what helped me through this difficult time was piping hot, yummy chicken soup with succulent vegetables – organic carrots, chewy celery, fresh parsley and even a hint of parsnip. The first batch of chicken soup sustained me for several days and filled not only my stomach but also my heart. Someone had cared enough to prepare and share this nourishment when I was in the throes of the worst of the pneumonia. That medicine was indeed as potent as my antibiotics.
Then a week later when I was still coughing a lot but finally had the energy to get out a bit, a friend spotted me walking near our library. When I told her I had pneumonia, she immediately asked whether I would like some chicken soup. Of course, I said “yes!” True to her word, the next day she delivered two containers full of chicken soup which again nourished me in multiple ways.
At some point during the first few weeks of pneumonia, I googled “chicken soup.” Wide-eyed, I ogled one delicious-sounding recipe and then read a few messages below. One posting read, “Sigh… I have pneumonia and I have no one to bring me chicken soup.” Even though the posting was two years old, it pulled at my heartstrings. I wished I could crawl through my computer monitor and give this kindred soul some of my own chicken soup.
Illness and other variations of hard times can be isolating. We’ve come a long ways from the days when many of us lived in close-knit communities where it was the norm to know how each person was doing. When someone experienced a loss, more often than not, others would be there to provide comfort, often without being asked. If someone was sick, food would appear. If your barn burned down, you knew your neighbors and friends would be there to help raise the next one. All of this kindness still happens, but is less common in many places.
Not everyone specifically wants or needs chicken soup, but most of us wouldn’t mind friends or family making some gesture to let us know someone is thinking of us when we are sick, recovering from surgery or going through a challenging time. Maybe it’s stopping by for a chat. Or offering to pick up groceries. Or sending a song or poem their way. Or doing a small chore. Or something entirely different.
With so many of us already feeling we are on overload and can’t fit in one more thing, it’s easy to assume that others have all the help and kindness they need, but that may not be the case. I make this assumption about others just as they have made it about me.
Years ago, I remember being shocked when a counselor told me that it was often her married patients who had the hardest time going through cancer treatment . Their partners were not always there for them in the ways they hoped or needed. Often, it was her married patients who felt the loneliest or most isolated. Sometimes it is just too scary or painful for partners watching their loved ones experience a life-threatening illness. I still remember how difficult it was for my dad when my mother was undergoing treatment for her cancer. So one’s need for real or metaphorical chicken soup – or its kindness equivalent – is not necessarily based on one’s marital or family status.
After I came through the worst of my pneumonia and started once again to feel like a human being, I realized that, over the course of my entire life, I have never brought anyone chicken soup. I’ve never even made chicken soup from scratch. That is about to change. Not being much of a cook, it may take me a few tries to get it just right, but I’m determined to try.
Just as others’ generosity has nourished me when it counted, I want to be the kind of person who can offer someone else a bowl of delicious homemade chicken soup Well, much more than chicken soup, but I’ll start there.