Black Bean Soup: On the Gift of Impermanence.

I am thinking about the impermanence of my black bean soup, again, and it is sneaking into my death thoughts.  Even on a night of fried tofu and brussel sprouts, my mind wanders to the miracle of the black bean soup, all while chewing the impermanent tofu and sprouts.

“People always ask me for my recipes, and they make them,” Ms. Vicki had said, “and then they inevitably call me after and say– ‘Vicki!  I did everything you said, and it doesn’t taste the same!'”

I was standing in her kitchen, shoveling one hot bite of carrot soup down and quickly slurping her homemade chai tea, breathing intermittently and feeling a little like an orphan on a curbside with a hardened bread crust.  I was grateful to be eating.  And everything tasted so… perfect.

“And I have to tell them,” she continued, “I say, ‘It’ll never be the same!’  Like this one you’re eating– it has leftover basil broth and leftover oregano, some potato water and Pat only just this morning pulled and peeled those carrots.  How do you replicate it?  You can’t.  You just have to enjoy each one for its impermanence.”

“My miracle black bean soup!” I blurted out, dripping a little carrot soup down my dress.

As if omniscient, she repeated back to me, “Exactly.  Like your black bean soup.”

There’s a fancy ramen place back in Nashville that we’ve heard does not allow customers to box up their leftovers for home.  We’ve rolled our eyes and groaned, lamenting yet another uppity snob-nosed indicator of our old neighborhood turning into a lavish, throw-it-out-if-it’s-not-new marketplace for white people with skinny jeans and fat wallets.  We made plans that, should we ever go there, we would sneak in our tupperware and dump the cooled ramen and walk out covertly with what we rightfully paid for.

“How can they tell us what to do with what is ours now!” I said.

“It’s like giving someone a record and telling them they can only listen to it on a special sound system!” my Someone said.

How cruel.  How unfair.  How pretentious.  That someone takes such pride in the time and place and demands that people remain in that time and place to consume, not merely sustenance, but a moment.

I thought about my black bean soup.  Then, I thought about the first time I listened to the new Regina Spektor album on headphones, on a front porch in North Carolina, crying, laughing, and knowing that I could never have this moment back again.  We would listen to it endlessly in the car and in our camper, but every listen after was just me eating out of a take-out container reliving the steaming bowl presented to me the first time.  Maybe there is something to listening and tasting in the way the creator wanted you to listen and taste.  Maybe there’s something to stopping our claim on what inevitably will come to an end, and trying instead to be there– here– relishing in the impermanence of now.

Living on the road means that my whole life is impermanent.  As of this morning, we were parked on a secluded spot that allows you to take up residence for only 14 days out of 30.  Everything is with an expiration date, even with places to live.  And all the impermanence has my Someone and I lately talking about more permanent roots.

“What about Jonesborough?” he said last night.

“But it’s still Tennessee,” I said.  “I never thought I would be someone from Tennessee.”

“There’s always Dillsburg,” he said.

“There is always Dillsburg…” I repeated.  But then I remembered the problem with settling down just yet.  It’s not the feeling that stopping would mean quitting.  Rather, our little culture of impermanence means that we are always in the process of being about-to-see-our-friends and saying-goodbye-to-our-friends.  A house with a garden and a few little goats had me missing all of my friends at once– they with their permanent structures and backyards and increasing number of children.  My own impermanence keeps me permanently loving each of their own shifting, impermanent lives in their still places.  And the hello-then-goodbyes has me sucking to the marrow each impermanent moment with them.  And filling my to-go containers to the brim with the love of them.

I wonder if it is in this way that we crave so badly a Heaven.  Where every old face is restored to their young self, every missing family member has returned, every impermanent thing is given a permanent home.

I wonder if it is in this way that I am so rarely grateful for a moment with my Someone that I am not also afraid of losing him to the great dark mouth of death.  And then I wonder, which one of these feelings comes first?  And then I re-remember my fear of Heaven– that permanent place where time is gone and there is no hurry to be all in on love.

My black bean soup was a miracle.  An effort of leftover potato water and Himalayan pink rice that was gifted to us, some broken dried black beans from the bargain bin, and a concoction of spices and celery and… I can never remember.  But we ate that soup for three days, and each time wished for more.  And then it was gone.  And while I have tried again and again (maybe it was the Michigan water?), it hasn’t been replicated.

“You have to stop trying,” Ms. Vicki said.  “Even if you had it all over again, you wouldn’t be able to love it the same.  The impermanence is what made it so spectacular.  It is better to celebrate it than to replicate it.”

She must have seen my defeat.  She smiled.

“I once made a magic curry,” I said.

“I know,” she said.


  1. Mallory is a genius in many ways. A nice read, introspective, and now I’m going to make my bean soup today. Bean soup is what my dad made for my mom for when she came home from the hospital in 2006. She never came home. My friend Mike, in the final stage of stomach cancer snuck out of his house on his son’s watch to get ingredients for his special bean soup for his family even though he couldn’t eat any himself. He passed a few days later. Bean soup. Life.

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