The question is asked with the same tone one might use to ask, you know about Mother Teresa, right?
You’ll eat with us? she asks.
But the answer is not so easy, in fact I haven’t yet really found a correct negative response.
The impression is that of course- I am here, it is close to dinnertime, I consume food regularly- why wouldn’t I eat with them? Who wouldn’t know about Mother Teresa?
Except that this generous question is asked of me multiple times a week.
She cooks for 10 at lunch, though her family is only 4 ½. (The ½ is the baby, who most of the time is referred to as “the small one,” who also only eats mush.) You never know if someone might drop by, a sister in law, a cousin, a nephew, at the same time that you might be eating. The roti dough is ready and only takes her 2 minutes to flawlessly prepare. (I tell you this with slight disdain, due to my complete inability to perform this most basic of tasks.) She’ll laugh if that family from church really does decide to stop in, put some water in the curry, and make it go further. If something is leftover, it is eaten at dinner or breakfast or by the wandering white girl who lives across the way.
She tells me, Caroline- when you go back there (it is never referred to by name, it is simply there- as in, it is not here, so it is there), you’ll have to make your own food. Relax now. And what would you do at your house? Eat alone? She says this in the same tone you might use to tease a child to ask if they brought their brain to school. And she beckons me into her kitchen to hold a chubby cheeked baby while she peels potatoes or slices carrots. She doesn’t mind if I can’t think of anything funny or exciting to share, the mundane will do. She doesn’t care if my Urdu has gone for the day and I can’t even share the mundane, she’ll do all the talking. She thinks it’s great if some days we just watch the Arab World’s version of Downton Abbey; I catch words like princess and murder and marriage and I smile.
It’s her kitchen that I think of when I think of the abundance of the Kingdom. How God is more than pleased to dish up a few more servings of grace. How she assures you that your time is so much better spent with her and her family than alone. How she invites you to take part- wash these peas, give the small one a bottle, grab the plates. How she is always prepared, in spirit and with hands and feet, to share with others. How she accepts everyone at her table of misfits and family members and friends from way back when. How she shows abundance by welcoming others into abundant living.
Yes, I’ll be surprised if heaven doesn’t smell a little like curry powder and feel like here (as in, it isn’t there, it’s here- among us.)