On making the soup

In 2012, during the first year of working with my analyst, one night I dreamed I made matzo ball soup.

When I recounted the dream at that week’s appointment, I was stunned when she said, “I think you should go home and make matzo ball soup. Notice what that experience is like, and how it feels to you while you’re making the soup.”

I had only eaten matzo ball soup a couple of times in my entire life, much less prepared it, so I had to figure out how on my own, doing research and using a kind of rough average of a half-dozen recipes I found online. I felt that if I was going to do this, I should do it right, so I started from scratch. I roasted a chicken, and then I made homemade stock from it. I refrigerated the stock so that it would set up. Once it was cold, I carefully scraped off the schmaltz and reserved it, and then I used it for the fat in the matzo balls, instead of oil or butter. I stirred the batter, but not too much, and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. I rolled the batter into little balls and slipped them into a deep pot of the hot stock and simmered them, covered, for a half hour. And then I arranged three of them in a bowl and ladled golden stock over it, and a shower of fresh chives.

I think of my sister, who wrote in her journal of an experience she had several nights before she left for Nashville to have her bone marrow transplant. How she lay in bed awake, with a persistent sense that a divine voice kept saying to her “Stand up, stand up!” How she tried to ignore it, think of other things, but those two words kept returning again and again, insistent, until she threw off the covers and stood up on her mattress in the dark. Then she felt like a fool. The room was quiet. Nothing happened.

I was likewise mystified by my analyst’s “assignment,” and I remember a strange, almost supernatural wonder about whether I would get some magical epiphany from making the soup. Which I didn’t. It was merely – merely? – a delicious soup. A bowl of gold with rich, buttery dumplings and flecks of jewel-like green in it.

Yet I think of that soup as a key piece in the complete transformation that I underwent over the course of the next several years.

Something about making that with my hands, something about the concreteness of it, something about that act as a kind of proof to my psyche, a way of showing my deep willingness to listen to her, to hear her out, even at the cost of making a fool of myself, of feeling slightly ridiculous – an absurd leap of faith. I can trace so much back to that matzo ball soup.

My analyst is truly a genius. But I was brave, too, to make that leap.

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