I do not like curry. I overdosed on it at an Ethiopian restaurant some years back — couldn’t get the smell off my fingers for days. Since then the slightest hint of curry causes my viscera to twist into knots. Swarna is my neighbor. She’s Indian (from India) and she puts curry in most everything she eats. Early this morning she knocked at my back door. A shy smile on her face, she presented me a colorful tray of fresh fruit, homemade pastries and steaming soup. A note read:
Brother Bob, Hope you enjoy this meal for breakfast, lunch, or snack. Always your sister across. Blessed day to you. Swarna
What a loving act from a neighbor! I was so touched by her care for me. She knows that I am alone now, that I probably am not eating as well as I should. I was on her mind as she prepared food for her own family and she cared enough to set aside little containers and plates to provide nourishment for me. What a marvelously Christian thing to do (though she is actually Hindu)!
The breakfast tray is sitting on my kitchen counter. I recognize the banana and the orange — nothing else. There is another fruit that resembles a tomato but it is much firmer and heavier and yellowish. The pastries are doughy and round, like fat, undercooked sugar cookies without the sugar. A small container marked “annika” contains some sort of thick, grainy, syrupy gravy that I’m not sure what to do with. And the soup — that’s where the strong curry odor is coming from. My house is now permeated with it. I cannot imagine what I will say if Swarna finds her tray — minus the orange and banana — sitting untouched out on my porch. I must take it around behind the house well out of sight.
The kitchen windows and both back and front doors are wide open now, the outside air pouring through the house. I have washed my hands with a pleasant smelling soap but the curry lingers. And now I will, for just a moment while my house airs out, try to understand how giving and receiving love can be such a delicate thing.
Love language. I remember that’s what Peggy called it. It’s the language (or expression) that makes us feel really loved, like a thoughtful gift or a gentle touch or an attentive ear. We tend to communicate to others in the love language that we would like to receive ourselves. Perhaps Swarna’s love language is giving thoughtful gifts. But what if a gift, given so caringly and from the heart, is a gift that the recipient doesn’t care for? Even worse — is offended by?
It happens all the time, you know. Someone quotes a scripture and offers some counsel when what you really need is a hug. Or someone drops by for a friendly, supportive visit when you are worn out from a full day of meetings. Not every gift is a good gift, even though it may come from a good place in the giver’s heart. What we intend as a helpful offering may in fact be burdensome rather than uplifting to the recipient. How on earth can I tell Swarna that her food nauseated me? I can’t. I must lie.
There may be no surefire way to accurately align the intent of a giver with the desires of the recipient. Not without directly asking. And even if we do ask “Do you like curry?” or “Is this a good time to talk?” the response we get will likely be more polite than candid. And so we make our best guesses, take shots in the dark, act out of our own love language and hope we connect. It would be nice if we could be really honest with each other but even after years of knowing a friend or spouse intimately we still sometimes miss it.
Perhaps in the end the real issue is not the actual gift at all but the intent. Would I have seen Swarna’s heart any more clearly had she brought me a traditional southern breakfast of eggs, sausage and grits? Was not her gift of Indian cuisine an expression of herself, the best she had to offer? If I see beyond the tangible expression to the spirit of care that prompts it, I find the soul of one who reaches out to touch me. And, after all, it is the touch of the soul that gives deep and lasting value to life.