“Life is like an onion:  you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”

— Carl Sandburg

Call me crazy, and I know it ruins the metaphor, but there is nothing I like much better than a hefty slab of sweet Vidalia onion.  Add it to a burger or a tuna sandwich, and you will see me crunch and smile at the same time.  Saute it in a bit of olive oil or butter, and you can add it to just about anything you want to serve me.  Its sweetness will contrast with or enhance just about any other flavor and make eating an adventure.

On the other hand, there are few things that I find more disappointing than slicing into an onion and discovering that the inner layers are spoiled.  The harsh smell of this sort of onion can send me running to the sink to wash my hands before I forget myself and touch them to my already-teary eyes.  For those of us who really love onions, there is more than disappointment in one that has no sweetness.  We feel betrayed when we love the sweetness of a crisp fresh onion and expect to find it beneath the skin but instead are met with something that offends the eyes and the nose and leaves us crying.

Sandburg, it seems, knows his onions and knows a bit about life.  What makes life and onions such close companions is that both are usually sweet.  If every onion made us cry, there would be no surprise when we found ourselves running for water and wiping away the tears.  We wouldn’t think twice about it.  We simply would come to expect tears as the price we would pay for eating onions — or we would avoid onions entirely.  As a lover of onions and a lover of life, I have enjoyed peeling away the paper-thin covering that hides what lies below the surface and exploring the sweetness of each new layer.  I have savored the flavor and the sweetness of each new surprise that has shown itself at each new level of discovery.  As I have learned what to do when a layer of onion betrays me and leaves me crying, I also have learned how to find my way through life’s disappointments and downturns.  I have learned that if I continue to remove the layers of an onion, I am likely to find that there is sweetness below.  In the same way, the pains and disappointments of life are with us only for a short time.  Beneath them lies more sweetness, but we must have the courage to shed a few tears, dirty our hands, and take the time to deal with our sense of betrayal that life can be harsh.

It is wise to remember that it is the contrast that allows us to feel the sting of a layer without sweetness.  We must hold onto the perspective that if there were no sweetness, we would consider pain and tears to be normal.  What gives us the hope to find our way through the difficult times is knowing that a return to sweetness is not far away.  All we need to do is keep on peeling.