Here’s a 3-second version of this piece: Never say never; say yes to the glow of forever.
Last spring, while facilitating a move for me and my daughter, I was extremely stressed out. This move would be our second of three in just 1 ½ years, and I was dying for a stable place to call home. Recognizing my despair, my close friend Gerald offered to take me out for lunch at one of his favorite local spots, a popular Puerto Rican restaurant called Sol Food.
Our northern California sun was bright that day. Feeling the vivid spice of my Puerto Rican ancestry beneath my skin, I put on a halter top sundress with pineapples all over it and walked down to meet him.
I had no idea what was about to happen. I was about to be greeted and embraced by what I call the glow of yes. This was the beginning of a 7-month relationship that gave me a profoundly beautiful, unexpected gift — and it wants to be shared with you.
Here’s the scene. Picture a big, well-lit, gorgeously designed restaurant featuring family style seating, eccentric wooden tables held by a vast concrete floor and bold Caribbean colors. You walk in and classy salsa music dances on your ears and embraces your hips. Upbeat staff work their magic and the scent of island dining fills the air. Soft and sweet yellow madúros plantains and crisp savory green tostónes plantains, kissed with garlic. Big supple prawns breaded in plantains (gluten free!). Baked chicken thighs that melt in your mouth. It all brought me back to my childhood days spent feasting on my grandma Angelina’s platanos.
Sol Food started in Marin County, where I grew up. Read more about it in this SF Chronicle piece, The Accidental Success of Marin’s Beloved Sol Food. Its original location in San Rafael usually has customers lined up from the register, out the front door and wrapped around the street corner.
So I walk to meet Gerald for lunch. He is a Taoist and always has supportive wisdom to share. He tops off his wisdom with great jokes which help lighten up all the deep talk. Anytime I’m with him, I feel both moved and amused.
From the second I walked in and saw Gerald waiting for me, my stress began lifting. Our hugs are always spectacular; that helps. His eagerness to eat Sol Food was palpable; he was essentially drooling about his beverage, Pónche, a popular orange mango iced tea punch with sparkling limeade. We ordered, found a table, he listened to my woes and offered wisdom.
Suddenly I noticed a wild shift in my mood. It was like I felt the glow of yes all over.
As the Puerto Rican music rolled down my shoulders, I told Gerald, “God, it feels really good to be here.”
Was it the sol in the air? Sol means sun. I’m a huge fan of the sun, but we were indoors and… what was it about this place?
Gerald and I ruminated a bit.
Both in the kitchen and on the floor, staff seemed content. That’s a noteworthy positive trait for human systems. When staff are unhappy, I’ll rarely go back — those aren’t places I want to fund — not the kind of organizations I want more of in my world.
Was it the aesthetically gorgeous interior design? Someone clearly put a lot of time and attention into designing the interior. Materials chosen, placement, composition, tall healthy plants, excellent lighting — that all has a strong draw.
Plus, this place was really clean. Much cleaner than most restaurants. That requires systemwide discipline, it’s not an easy feat, and I found this admirable.
Good food was coming to our table. Good music filled the air. The space was physically and energetically attractive. Staff were enthusiastic. All of this piled up to stimulate my own inner radiance, and combined with the company of a great, wise friend…
Where did all my stress go?
In the presence of all this ‘yes’, I felt like I was standing beneath a waterfall, being washed over by cascading vitality. I was on happy drugs, only without the drugs.
The drug was joy.
Just like during my 2021 near death experience, I felt like I was surrounded by a golden yellow light, the glow of yes.
Glimpse back, three years ago, to February 16, 2021. I was anesthetized for nine hours, my skull was cut open and a massive brain tumor was removed from my left frontal cortex by a team of nine doctors and nurses. During surgery, I had a near death experience. I was offered a chance to ‘go over’, to die.
I declined. I am a mother. I love being in a body. I love being alive.
A golden pool of stars swirled in my pelvis. In the core of my being, I was communing with Christ Light, a divine symphony of yellow stars shimmering in my middle. This feeling stayed with me throughout the four days in the Neurosurgery ICU, and it hasn’t left me since. Its intensity is often dimmed, yet I can still feel the golden glow of stars — the golden glow of yes — as a guidepost to lead me through my days.
Two years later it was spring of 2023 and there I was at lunch with Gerald feeling illuminated again. Yesness was shining all over. At that moment, a crazy idea came to mind and I thought… Is this really happening?!
In all my years before, I swore I’d never work at a restaurant. I had seen people act snooty and rude to wait staff, and I wouldn’t tolerate that. Plus, I’d likely drop and break plates and move way too slow for the restaurant buzz.
This glow of yes that filled the air took me over. I let it guide me.
Gerald was tickled as he watched me stand up, walk to the manager and ask for an application. Three days later I was hired. That was seven months ago. And yesterday was my last day.
While I move on to my next lily pad in professional reemergence after a gnarly-rigorous decade, I must extend galactic gratitude for my time at Sol Food.
This is where it gets deep, people.I’m not talking about the pretty space or the happy staff now. I am talking about what can show up when we say YES to the glow.
At the base of it all, this is about saying “yes” to the Light.
It is a Light that is within all of us, even those humans who are filled with self-hatred and therefore take it out on others in atrocious ways. Within some of us it’s very bright; within some, it’s very dim. It is a universal Light within all beings, unchained by any religious or spiritual dogma. Light is eternal; dogmas are temporary. ChristLight is beyond Christianity and the two sometimes actually differ considerably. ChristLight is universal, proclaiming no judgment. It is vast and free, based in the true art of forgiveness, which is not based in the idea of sin.
It is based in Love.
Nature, when unimpeded, brings opposites into a sensitive order. This is the foundational cosmic intelligence, the Tao, the force that pulls polarities into tenuous balance. — Jeff Krasno, host of the Commune podcast
We’ve got to acknowledge the other end of the spectrum, not the joy side. Work is called work for a reason. Compromises exist.
Before I walked in that door, I never wanted to work at a restaurant. And I don’t wear black and white, but that’s what you wear when you work at Sol Food. Black pants, white shirt, time to go shopping. Standing on concrete for hours in a 48-year-old body led me to buy some of the ugliest sneakers I’ve ever seen, black skid-proof HOKAs which meant my body actually stood on inches of bounce for several hours, not stiff concrete. Unlike freelance work, I had to clock in at a specific time. And the pay, however fair, was humbling for me with my past as a leadership consultant for big, successful systems.
There you have it, a job is a job. Right?
To eyes that see superficially, yes.
To eyes that can see — and feel — what’s beneath the surface, in the depths of human intimacy, expression and beauty… there is so much more. This is where the glow comes in.
When I applied for the job, I truly had no idea this was coming. Working at Sol Food for seven months gave me an unparalleled gift.
I got to love people. Straight up, this is what I did.
On the surface, I was just a woman behind the dine-in register. No matter your mood, size or skin color, I would treat you with respect and take your order.
Yet beneath that superficial layer of human interaction, it went much deeper. I literally got to embody and witness myself in an act of devotion to my lifelong religion: Love. Yes, this is something I intend to do on a daily basis; I take my ‘religion’ seriously. But one customer after the next, at a restaurant register? This part was new.
I’ll break it down.
It took me a few months to actually realize what was happening.
The fact that I was loving people was nothing new; having been devoted to Love since childhood, I have unconscious competency loving people. That’s key — my competency was unconscious before this. It’s like someone who’s so competent with snowboarding that they can’t explain to a beginner how it’s done… “I just do it.” That’s how I had always been with expressing Love; I couldn’t explain how I was doing it, I just knew how to do it. Practicing anything for 40+ years will probably make you good at it.
Most people, I’d say 85% of customers who walked up to my register, were simply willing to be treated with Love — greeted with eye contact and a pleasant hello, heard while they asked questions about the menu, listened to attentively as they placed their orders, addressed with patience and a cooperative spirit. This large majority of customers was treated with the simplicity of kindness, one of Love’s fondest hues.
A small percentage (13%) of customers were in flat, gruffy or even sour moods, so the way I loved them was through Love’s essence: unconditional acceptance.
Love doesn’t feed fear; Love liberates it.
Besides, how did I know why their mood was off? To be of service to these souls, all I could do was offer Love’s gentle presence, as an unspoken invitation for them to feel it too.
That brings us to 98%. What about the remaining 2% of customers?
This is where the gold pours in — where I most explicitly felt that golden glow of yes during my 7-month stint with Sol Food.
At least once a day, someone would walk through the door with their soul’s eyes wide open, ready for Love. If you read my writing often, you know I’m not talking about romance. No, I didn’t hit on customers. Love is both simple and complex, and it is impossible to define. I’m talking about Love — the essence of who we are — the most powerful force in the universe. I’m talking about Love as a feeling, the feeling of being at Home — in your body, in your Life, in this moment of now. When someone walked through the door who was open to being loved, I could feel it. Energetically. Our interaction felt uplifted by something bigger than us. We were like magnets in our readiness to dance in the potency of Love’s guidance. Ease moved through our words. Presence held our exchange. It was “on”... like two lightbulbs, two suns, living inside human bodies, exponentially illuminating.
A tall, friendly black man who’d lived through brain surgery, too. His tumor was malignant; still, we shared great empathy for each other’s journeys.
A radiant silver-haired woman who leads the local Blue Zones group, dedicated to human happiness and longevity. I learned about them at the register!
Two men whose presence glows with nobility, who work locally with a respected organization called Muir Wood Teen Treatment Center, serving teens with addiction and mental illness.
An elderly man who came in with his daughter; they both glowed with the beauty of Spirit-lit human presence. As she and I connected with each other, we discovered we’d both had NDEs! Almost every time, that ‘glow’ invites connection.
A woman who leads a local hospice. New parents, grateful to feel seen and honored for the Life they just brought into the world. People stopping in from the East Bay, Silicon Valley, Denver and Ireland, wanting to check out the Sol Food buzz.
Over the course of my seven months working there, I greeted hundreds of humans who willingly and gratefully let Love in, and gave it back.
Light beamed from their faces as they walked away from the register.
Literally, if I had taken a photo of them when they walked in, and another one as they left me at the register, these photos would depict two different energetic frequencies, the latter one: lifted, brightened, lit. Glowing. And all I had to do was love them.
Often, it was children. Ever ready to be playful and to feel seen and loved, children were some of the easiest customers to love. All I had to do was ‘meet’ them where they were: breathing, energetic, interested… or even fussy, tired or frantic. If the child’s mama seemed to need help managing the chaos at her feet, I sometimes handed the child the table number, asking them a question about the photo it held. Or I’d hand them a piece of ice from the drink tray, and ask them, “What will happen if you put this in your hand?”
There is no better way to show Love to a mother or father, than to love their children.
When I clocked out for my last shift yesterday, tears filled my eyes. I loved working there, and it loved me back.
I could write an entire book about the beauty I was gifted through that job. Though I need to move on to continue the upswing in my professional reemergence, I will hold the golden feather Sol Food gave me, for the rest of my Life. It will accompany me into my next professional role, and all of those that follow.
Even in the face of a never, choosing the glow of yes connects us with a Light that is forever.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, was born with a divine pen in her pelvis. Her heart writes for her; Love is her 'religion'. A lifelong letter writer and a thought leader in Love, her blog is devoted to her greatest passion: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit so we all move closer to remembering that Love is Who We Are.