• lenten journal: it’s the little things

    by  • March 28, 2009 • Uncategorized • 0 Comments

    I finished Kathleen Flinn’s The Sharper the Knife, The Less You Cry today and found myself moved by her closing words:

    As in cooking, life requires that you taste, taste, taste as you go along – you can’t wait until the dish of life is done. In my career, I always looked ahead to the place I wanted to go, the next rung on the ladder. It reminds me of “The Station” by Robert Hastings, a parable read at our wedding. The message is that while on a journey, we are sure the answer lies at the destination. But in reality, there is no station, no “place to arrive at once and for all. The joy of life is the trip, and the station is a dream that constantly outdistances us.”

    How many tears did I cry because I didn’t get what I wanted? “The sharper the knife,” as Chef Savard had said, “the less you cry.” For me, it also means to cut those things that get in the way of your passion and of living your life the way it’s meant to be lived.

    Of course, I also learned to make a mean reduction sauce and to bone an entire chicken without removing the skin, which is nice, too.

    With a little searching, I found a copy of “The Station,” for which I’m grateful. He follows the words Flinn quoted with these:

    “Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

    So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along. The Station will come soon enough.

    With those sentiments swirling in my soul, I made my (mostly) daily journey to The Writer’s Almanac to find today’s offering, “Meditation on Ruin” by Jay Hopler:

    It’s not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,
    or the con game gone bad, or the beating
    Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,
    The broken shoelace,
    The overcharge at the gas pump
    Which we broach without comment — these are the things that
    eat away at life, these constant vibrations
    In the web of the unremarkable.

    The death of a father — the death of the mother —
    The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken
    pair of glasses,
    The tear in the trousers,
    These begin an ache behind the eyes.
    And it’s this ache to which we will ourselves
    Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there’s a
    crack in the water glass —we wake to find ourselves undone.

    One of the things Flinn mentions more than once in her book that I have come to find both true and necessary in my work in the kitchen is a good cook cleans up between tasks. Part of the reason is basic hygiene: if you’re cutting raw meat, you need to change the cutting board and clean your knife before you start dicing vegetables. Part of the reason is practical: you run out of counter space in a hurry if you don’t take time to put away and wipe down. When I fail to keep up with my cleaning, I learn (again) what Hopler is saying: the little details will kill you.

    And they will save you.

    Before I could get too philosophical, my mind first took a country turn after reading the poem and dug up Robert Earl Keen’s song, “The Little Things,” from my mental juke box. Keen can be as cynical as he is country, and this song is no exception.

    It’s the way you stroke my hair while I am sleeping
    It’s the way you tell me things I don’t know
    It’s the way you remember I came home late for dinner
    Eleven months and fourteen days ago

    It’s the little things the little bitty things
    Like the way that you remind me I’ve been growing soft
    It’s the little things the itty bitty things
    It’s the little things that piss me off

    I’m not sure why the song has stuck with me over the years, because I don’t like it. I mean it’s a catchy little country number, but the sentiment is crass in that Henny-Youngman-take-my-wife-please attempt at humor sort of way that, well, isn’t funny. It is, however, instructive because Keen articulates the very despair in the details that Hopler warns against. A marriage falls apart just like the rest of the world: it’s the little things.

    Or it’s the little things that build a life together, whatever the relationship. We find our joy in the journey when we travel together, whatever the destination. Ginger and I had lunch today with a friend from Massachusetts. We were talking about a mutual acquaintance and Ginger made the comment that it was hard for her when the woman demeaned her husband in public. I realized when she said it that she had never done that to me in our twenty years together.

    It’s the little things.

    Ginger and I met this afternoon with Keith from Bountiful Backyards, a company here in Durham that describes themselves as “edible landscapers,” working to get folks to do more with their yards than plant grass and flowers, but to think more in terms of food productions, soil nutrition, and water conservation. Last fall, we had to regrade our front yard, so there is nothing but dirt and stepping stones (underneath our giant pin oak); we needed help seeing what could be. Keith had tons of ideas and we talked about several possibilities. One of the most helpful things he said was to think in terms of it being a work in progress; it didn’t all have to happen right now. Gardening is a journey of its own. We will make some plans, dig in the dirt, plant some stuff, on our journey to make this house more and more our home – with a yard we can eat!

    Years ago, my friend Billy and I wrote a song called “Traveling Mercies,” part of which said:

    take bread for the journey
    and strength for the fight
    comfort to sleep through the night
    wisdom to choose at the fork in the road
    and a heart that knows the way home

    go in peace live in grace
    trust in the arms that will hold you
    go in peace live in grace
    trust God’s love

    Yes. It’s the little things.

    Peace,
    Milton

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