Red, White, Yellow, Spanish, Vidalia, Cipollini. Up and down, I scan the wall of onion filled baskets, by far the ugliest section in the produce department. If I didn’t know what an onion was, I’d certainly never pick one up out of sheer culinary curiosity.
Covered in unattractive papery, peeling skin, some even with dings and spots. Different varieties and colors. Various nuances of flavor. But this ugly little vegetable is a base ingredient in a myriad of dishes among cultures throughout the world. With a sigh, I tossed my unsightly Vidalia into a plastic bag and headed home.
Onion poised on my cutting board, chef’s knife in hand, I began my dissection, removing the outer black flecked layers. Are these specks a bad thing? I really don’t know but as I peeled, the imperfections fell away, leaving behind a pristine yellowy white layer of flawlessness. Obsession seizing me, I peeled and peeled, negating the recipe at my side. Each layer became more tender, each releasing more juice. And there I stood, gazing at the counter, surprised at the mess I’d made in my attempt to find what was at the center, which was just a pinky nail-sized oniony core. Tears trickling down my face, it hit me…people are an awful lot like onions.
What we look like on the outside has absolutely nothing to do with what is on the inside, buried deep within the sanctum of our hearts. When introduced to someone new, what do we do? Communicate, of course. All very surface, all very polite initially. If we find some common interests, we take it a little further, peeling a little deeper, discovering what lies beyond the façade.
Peeling people takes great care. Pause and thoughtful consideration should be taken after each layer, carefully weighing the risk/benefit ratio of digging any deeper. You must also decide how much you will allow yourself to be exposed, for it is a bit of a game of quid pro quo. When someone reveals something personal, you must now return the gesture. Failure to do so, and you risk forfeiting the game, losing the chance for a connection.
The opposite is also true. Some people seem to sit around, begging to be peeled, shedding their layers faster than you are ready for. All you do is ask a co-worker how they are doing and the next thing you know, you’re covered in “I’m eight weeks pregnant and my husband just cheated on me” emotional vomit. And you didn’t even bring a change of clothes. Speaking of the workplace, heed extra caution. You have to see these people every day. Peel too far for the professional situation and you’re left with a big pot of ‘awkward’ stewing on your desk.
Sometimes in the process, you’re blessed enough to discover a friend, a friend who on the outside looks so completely different than you—a red onion sitting next to a Cipollini. Layer after layer, repeated e-mails/texts/conversations/dinner at P.F. Chang’s/coffee at Panera and you’ve found yourself a friend for keeps. To whom, at the low points of life, you compose epic-long emails to, knowing that out of everyone, your friend is probably the only one you’d ever have the courage to hit “send” to.
Perhaps the greatest example for me is the process of falling in love (I am a hopeless romantic, after all). With each personal interaction layers are loosened—some layers requiring a bit more work as they are jaded from past heartbreak. Perchance in the process you discover something so sweet and tender…ah true love, then marriage, where you will learn that the peeling yet continues. It is a lifelong process. A continual learning experience.
Now, a strong word of caution, oh ye metaphoric onion peelers: just like a real onion, you cannot put the layers back together when you find something you don’t like or when you’ve accidentally peeled too far. No matter how much you pray or cry, the layers will simply stare back at you from the cutting board, little curled up bowls, leaving you with whatever you’ve found in your dissection…pungent or sweet or downright rotten to the core.
Concerning people, peel judiciously…and keep a few tissues handy, just in case.