Making soup is therapeutic.
First, you gather the vegetables, potatoes dense and slightly rough, carrots gnarled and wrinkled, celery stringy and still carrying dirt in its pockets and onion slick beneath its papery skin. You peel the potatoes and carrots watching brown and orange curls of skin fall into the sink beneath the long strokes of the vegetable peeler. They pile onto each other like children wallowing in autumn leaves.
Then you chop. Cubes of potato and onion, discs of carrots, demi-lunes of celery. The solid sound of metal moving through organic matter. Chop. Chop. Chop. The knife gets stuck in the potato every now and then, its starch making glue on the blade. You stop, wipe it off and begin again. It moves through the celery with the rapidity of a sewing machine making a long seam. Little mountains grow on the cutting board, little mountains of effort.
Next you take a heavy pot, one it takes two hands to lift, one that reminds you how strong you are. You fill it about a third of the way full, maybe with water, maybe with broth or stock. It depends on what you want to have when you are done. You scoop the vegetables up with your hands and drop them into the pot smiling with each satisfying splash. They slide into the liquid and into each other. They look like jewels.
You might add some salt and pepper at this point. Maybe some bay leaves. It's your soup. Season to taste.
You turn on the heat — medium low at this point — cover the pot and leave it for a while. Fifteen minutes. Maybe 20. Maybe 30. Just depends on how long it takes for the vegetables to become tender but still crisp.
While you wait you clean up the mess.
Once the vegetables are ready you decide what kind of soup it will be. Does this soup want tomatoes? Does it want chicken and noodles? Does it want beans? Does it want the leftover corn and green beans in the Tupperware container that falls out of the refrigerator every time you open it?
Put it in, turn up the heat, cook a little longer. However long it takes. This is soup. It isn't souffle.
When it's ready, you get a bowl, a big bowl and fill it up. You watch the steam rise in silver wisps. You resist the almost irresistible urge to taste it right away. You will burn your tongue. You know you will.
You lean down to smell it, to feel the steam hit your cheeks. You put your hands around the bowl. It is too hot to hold. You remember reading that the reason Japanese tea cups have no handles is that the Japanese know that if the cup is too hot to hold, the tea is too hot to drink.
You distract yourself by finding a spoon, a napkin, maybe some crackers or a corn muffin, something to soak up what will be left at the bottom and unreachable by the spoon.
Finally, just at the moment when you are sure you are going to die from anticipation, you venture a tiny sip from the edge of the spoon and, yes, yes, the soup is cool enough to eat. To eat, to slurp (if you are alone), to be drawn not just into your mouth and belly, but into your very veins, easing away not just hunger, but anger and loneliness and frustration and fatigue.
Making soup is therapeutic. Because it's a lot like making life.
You gather the makings and trim them to fit your pot. You turn up the heat. You throw in a few surprises at the last minute. You wait while all the flavors meld. And then you fill yourself with it, with all of it.
And you remember — Please, please remember — that it's your soup, your life. There is no recipe. Only a matter of figuring out what it craves.