“Hey, who made the sweet potato and corn soup?” I asked the young worker at the grill counter when I ordered my grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. From off to the side, a growly voice with a hint of a challenge asked, “Who wants to know?” Taken aback by this response, I hesitated for a minute, and then replied, “I just wanted to give the chef compliment. I love this soup!” “Oh, okay. I thought you had a complaint about it. Usually when someone is asking about something, it’s to complain.” And, that’s how I met Walter, the head chef in Alumni Hall Food Court at Providence College, where I worked for six years as the counselor-in-residence of the Rhode Island School Counseling Project.
Walter is on my mind because I made his sweet potato and corn soup the other day and I couldn’t help chuckling about our first meeting. What I didn’t know at the time is his reputation for being cantankerous and a little ornery. He was both that day but I used my best school counselor skills and from that day forward, whenever the soup was on the menu, Walter would set some aside for me if I didn’t make it to the dining hall before It closed. I still have the container from the last time he extended this kindness.
So what does Walter and soup have to do with going to college? Let me make the connection for you. During your time on campus, you are going to meet so many people and you have the power to decide your relationship with them. Yes, transitioning to a new place is challenging and overwhelms you at times and there will be new experiences and new people. You will have professors who push you out of your comfort zone by having high expectations of you and then there will be professors who are less than enthusiastic about their subject matter. Maybe that roommate questionnaire you completed during orientation fell a little flat in the selection process and your current roommate is not ideal. That throat-clearing noise is obnoxious, especially when you need to study. How about your new Biology lab partner who annoys you with his habit of always being late? Then, what if you discovered your Calculus professor, who seems uninterested in his class, had a terminally ill relative? Or that your roommate didn’t know her habit annoyed you because you didn’t say anything. Did you know your Biology lab partner worked extra hours to pay his college bill and the only shift available was on the same day as the lab? I didn’t know Walter had a reputation when I chose kindness in my response to him.
Kindness. We’re in short supply of it these days.
On one of my last visits to Providence College, I went over to Alumni Hall Food Court to say hi to Walter. I’m glad I made the time to visit him because he was moving to another job not at the college. This time I accepted his offer to give me the recipe for Belinda’s Sweet Potato and Corn Soup. You see, after our initial meeting, he named the soup after me because he knew how much I enjoyed it. When I make that soup now, I smile because it connects me to a time in my life that was full of joy.
Kindness matters. Practice it daily.
Bonus – here’s the recipe. I hope it makes you smile.