Originally posted 22nd July 2019
Is it ever ‘just’ a bowl of rice?
A tale of love and friendship
Twenty years ago I moved into this house and right from the start, my next door neighbour has been wonderful. She’s always caring, concerned, generous and friendly.
She’s Muslim, and every special day in the Islamic calendar, she comes around with fresh food. The Muslim tradition is to share food, but never left-overs, always popping around with piping hot, tasty food before the family sit down to eat themselves.
She always asks about the health of my mum and my dad and tells me about the antics of her first great-grandson. Even though she has very little English, we have lovely chats and huge hugs.
She’s never batted an eye that I’m lesbian, and when I first got chickens and one flew over into her garden, she ran around the garden with me, squealing with delight trying to shoo it back over. She said it gave her happy memories of the chickens she used to have in Pakistan. She invited me and my partner to her grand-daughter’s wedding and we were warmly welcomed and treated like VIPs.
People who notice people
Just after my dad died, I saw my neighbour in her garden but, after a day of talking funeral details and trying to be brave, I hadn’t got the strength to tell her the news. Days went by and suddenly it was the day of his funeral and I still hadn’t mentioned it. It felt uncaring not to tell her, yet I just hadn’t managed to do it.
Annie and I got back from the service early evening (which was beautiful and went smoothly, by the way, full of love, thank you for sending yours, it truly helped) and we sat in the back lounge with the patio doors open, listening to the birds sing as it became dusk. I cried. We sat quietly. We chatted.
“Who’s that at this time of night?”
Then the door-bell rang. Unusual at that time of night.
There stood my neighbour with a bowl of fresh, vegetable rice in her hands. She passed me the rice and I put it on the chair near the door. She asked how I was. Tears came quickly and I told her about losing my dad. Her eyes filled with tears too and she held me tightly, repeating “So sorry, so sorry”. You know sometimes people give you a polite hug and other times you know they really mean it. You can lean into it and find solace there. This was a proper hug.
Twenty years of a polite chats, an exchange of Christmas and Easter presents, as well as Eid and Ramadan, twenty years of shared lives. It’s always been a lovely relationship and I’ve always felt lucky to have really kind and friendly neighbours all around. But that one bowl of rice was special.
I said what an incredible coincidence it was that she happened to come round with food, when it had been such a momentous day. It was only later she said quietly “You came back earlier. Something not right”.
She knew, on some level, that something had happened.
A conversation starter
Her visit was no coincidence. The rice was an offering, a key to open a conversation. Something to help me open up and tell her the news, so that she could offer something more; some love and some comfort.
Annie enjoyed some of the rice right away and declared it delicious – it always is! And the next day I took it to add to a takeaway meal with friends. It served us well, a little takeaway money saved but more than that, a better class of rice than we would have had! I told them this story and I swear the rice tasted even better for it.
‘Just’ a bowl of rice
Most of all, it was so much more than a bowl of rice. A peace offering, a conversation starter, an international gesture of comfort, support and friendship without the need for words.
It’s usual at this point in a story, for me to draw parallels and point out the message.
I suspect, though, that you feel something in reading it, and that even if you don’t consciously register what the parallel is for you, that you’ll know on an subconscious level, what this story is reminding us.
Whether you bring the rice, receive the rice, or eat the rice, it’s never ‘just’ a bowl of rice.
This week, I wish you connections and conversations, love and plenty of ‘rice’
Here’s to you, to love.