Where lemons are sliced thin…

While living in Ireland in 1998, Catherine was surprised to find herself one summer working as a waitress in a little café in the popular destination town of Kinvara. Nestled in a crook of Galway Bay in the West of Ireland, Kinvara is a place of megalithic tombs, holy wells, a 14th century castle, ancient cairns, Irish music, and weekly set-dancing. Out of her experience, Catherine wrote the book “God is in Rosaleen’s Restaurant.” This blog comes from her book.

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Artwork by Roseleen Tanham, owner of Roseleen’s Restaurant (http://kava.ie/rosaleen-tanham/)

I realised the first day that my challenge was to stay centered. During the five-hour shift I found myself scattered between Table 3 wanting more bread; the blinds needing to be pulled; the empty roll of toilet paper in the ladies’ room; Table 6’s demand for a receipt; and the three hungry people who just walked through the door.

Where was I? How quickly I no longer existed, no longer felt my own thirst and tired feet.

Jennys spiral

The chef would yell my name whenever the food was ready. “Catheriiiiine!” would fly across the small café, but it was always unmistakable. My mother’s voice calling me for supper.

Cup

“We’re all going to start talking with an American accent!” the chef teased me one evening. My voice startled people when I asked if they’d like ketchup instead of tomato sauce. It wasn’t so much the drawl of my voice, but the words I used. When I first arrived in Ireland, I had no job and no place to live. My life was in crisis. When I entered a pub or restaurant, the waiter or waitress would ask, “Are you OK?” Back in the U.S., service people usually say, “Can I help you?”

When asked if I was OK, I wanted to cry out, “No! I’ve no home and no job! I am definitely not OK.”

Instead, I ordered bottled water and a bag of peanuts.

Tea cup

“Slice the lemon thin,” Rosaleen said, “because they cost.” I stood in the kitchen slicing lemon for water jugs and thought of the tree in my mother’s backyard. A lemon tree heavy with fruit. Lemons falling, languishing in the California sun, turning green and white with mold. Lemons with no value at all.

Here, in the West of Ireland, where barely a tree grows in rocky limestone soil, lemons cost and are sliced thin. Such value seemed to rise beyond the cool, tangy smell that filled my nose.

Tea cup

Women are biologically capable of feeding others. Our breasts can swell with the milk of life. There is something deeply satisfying about nurturing others, something nice about serving food. Most evenings at Rosaleen’s Restaurant we were three women doing just that — the chef, her assistant who also washes dishes, and myself. Sometimes there was more help in the kitchen, and sometimes more help on the floor. But we were almost always women. Women feeding others.

Jennys spiral

You gave them the food of angels and, without their toil,
supplied them bread from heaven already prepared
containing every delight, to satisfy every taste.

Wisdom 16:20

God likes small places…

Line Drawing of Restaurant by Jenny Beale

Roseleen’s Restaurant’s entrance, by Jenny Beale

Twenty years ago I published God is in Roseleen’s Restaurant, a small book of reflective meditations about my time working as a waitress in Ireland. Can two decades go by just like that? Twenty years ago I was 44 years old, living in a round wooden house in Kinvara, a small village on the West Coast of Ireland. I had just met and fallen in love with my Dutch husband. We would marry in May the next year and have our wedding feast at Roseleen’s.

When I got the job as a waitress, I was an unemployed technical writer with little knowledge of either psychosynthesis or Assagioli. But (as always) I was searching… Continue reading

Imagine All the Healing

Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust. Marije Smits

“Finally I was able to let go of fear and found courage and trust.” (Marije Smits)

When Susan arrived for her first counseling session, I was struck by her almost fairy-like beauty. With dark hair, creamy fair skin, and crystal green eyes, she reminded me of Snow White. At the time of our meeting, Susan was a 28-year-old PhD student studying philosophy and ethics. Not long before, she had discovered a mole while taking a shower. Susan had been going to tanning salons since she was 20. By the time she was 23, she was addicted to looking and feeling “sun-kissed”. By then she was working at the tanning salon to help pay for her own treatments. For nearly two years, she was tanning every other day.

The mole turned out to be diagnosed as malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. “I didn’t even know what ‘melanoma’ meant,” she admitted to me. “When I found out the results, I was all alone at home and started to panic. I thought I was going to die.”

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Two Newspapers to China

tiananmen_1989_pays_reutersIn 1989, ten days before the Tiananmen Square massacre, my friend Julie and I sat in the China Travel Services office in Hong Kong and debated whether we should travel to Beijing. The U.S. embassy was warning that our safety could not be guaranteed. Should we go anyway? Grappling with our indecision, Julie asked the stone-faced woman behind the counter, “Is it safe?”

The woman stared hard at us and then looked away. “It is China.”

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An Imagined Apology

Apology - Street ArtNot long ago, I reflected on the process of forgiveness and how much time it can take. Recently, I heard a fascinating interview of the playwright and author Eve Ensler about her new book The Apology. Throughout her childhood, Ensler had been physically and sexually abused by her father. Decades after his death, she decided to write an apology for him – the apology that she had yearned to hear all her life. The book is written entirely from his perspective. In its “Introduction”, she talks about using her imagination to create the words she needed to hear her father say:

“My father is long dead. He will never say the words to me. He will not make the apology. So it must be imagined. For it is in our imagination that we can dream across boundaries, deepen the narrative, and design alternative outcomes.”

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Spring Breath of God

With standing room only, the bus sped down the freeway on a bright warm morning. Once we turned onto the bollenstreek, long ribbons of intense blue, mauve, and white stretched to the near horizon. At the same time, the colours seemed to invade inside and pour over us. Fields of yellow daffodils blared spring’s final triumph over the particularly long winter. Every head on the bus turned and gazed. And then suddenly, quite spontaneously, everyone sighed together, “Aaahhhhhhhh.” A breath song of collective awe.

We were headed to Keukenhof Gardens, near the Dutch town of Lisse, famous for its variety of bulb flowers, especially tulips. I was feeling particularly triumphant because I had two Dutch people in tow. My husband had finally run out of excuses and decided to appease his American wife. Along with us was a friend who had actually lived near the gardens for the past 35 years and had never visited them before. Continue reading

Birthing Forgiveness

forgivenessForgiveness is a transpersonal quality whose essential role is often overlooked in the story of Good Friday. Today Christians mark the death of Jesus, who before dying, forgave his executioners as well as the thief crucified by his side. Born out of a paradoxical mixture of human suffering, responsibility and love, the essential power of forgiveness is that is contains rather than proliferates violence. Today seems like a good time to explore where forgiveness comes from and the power it holds. How does it happen? And what are the steps that we, in our personal lives, can take towards it?

Forgiveness is a creative process. You decide how much, when, where, how, and under what conditions to forgive. As Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “The important part of forgiveness is to begin and to continue” (author’s italics). It does not happen overnight, it does not have to happen fully. But one thing is certain, it cannot happen from your head. We cannot reason our way around, into, or towards forgiveness. Forgiveness comes from the heart, and it requires a great love, a Love beyond ourselves. Continue reading