There’s hardly anything more common than eating. It takes time, money, and effort, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it multiple times a day. In fact, we shape our lives around our need for food: companies and schools build lunch breaks into the schedule, holidays are celebrated with feasts, friends meet at coffee shops, and lovers woo over candlelit dinners. Clearly, there’s more going on here than simply keeping our bodies functioning. And don’t forget the gym memberships and diet programmes designed to compensate for our meals – you might say our relationship with food is complicated. Whatever else you say about it, though, you have to admit that food is powerful. Beyond it’s nutritional value, it packs an extremely high relational value as well (although it often seems that the foods with the least nutritional value have the most relational value, like ice cream and chocolate and cheesecake and pretty much every other dessert).Continue reading The
Summertime. The beaches are calling, and the exotic places of Earth are waiting for me to take a selfie with them. This is the season when we carve out time to put ordinary life on hold, put to-do lists in time out, and let responsibilities rest. For a few days, or a couple of weeks if we can get them, we are free.
…until it’s time to go home and return to ordinary days full of ordinary people and ordinary jobs and food and conversations about traffic and plans for the next holiday. Holidays can be so nice that they can tempt us to see the months and weeks of regular work in between as just a preparation for our next chance to get away. But what if all of this ordinary stuff in between is more than just a savings plan for another escape? What if it’s actually our life? And what are we missing by wishing it away?
I have a greater appreciation for my mother, now that my children are learning piano. When I was a kid, it never crossed my mind that my mom might not thoroughly enjoy hearing the same simple songs played poorly over and over again. She made me practice, so she must want to hear it, right? I thought I was the only reluctant one, until my own children started playing those same simple songs, with the same mistakes, over and over again. It’s not always been very pleasant. And yet I really do like to hear it – not because of the repetitive wrong notes, but because of what they are leading to. Now that a few years have passed, the things my children play on the piano are much nicer to hear. If they keep at it, the things they’ll play in a few more years will be even better. It’s the only way forward. No one masters piano overnight. And what’s true for the instrument is also true for life:
If you want to do something well, the best way to start is by doing it poorly. Continue reading Some Things Are Worth Doing Poorly
We hear it all the time.
“Satisfied customers are our highest priority!”
But what would happen if we as customers ever achieved real, true, complete, 100% satisfaction? Would we still be customers? It seems to me that the entire reason we’re customers in the first place is because we’re not satisfied. If we were, why would we still need to buy things? Continue reading The Sale On Satisfaction Is For A Limited Time Only
My mother’s father was good at asking questions. I didn’t see him often since he lived far away, but when we did visit I knew at some point he would focus in on me specifically (I suppose he did that with everyone), and that’s when the questions would start. They began as standard fact-finding questions about what I was studying or doing in work, what I was reading or enjoying in my free time. In conversations with most people, this is where the questions stop. If the chat continues beyond them, it shifts to weather or sports or some other kind of neutral common ground – but talking to my grandfather was different. The normal questions were just the beginning.
There’s a meme going around saying that a bed is just a padded shelf where we put our body when we’re not using it. The saying is oddly clever, but it doesn’t capture the fact that we don’t actually have a choice about sleeping. It’s going to happen. Consciousness wears us out, and then leaves us, despite our best efforts to force it to stay for the coffee and energy drinks. Eventually, we all need that shelf to serve as our wireless recharging station. Try as we might, even the strongest and fittest and most prominent humans can’t avoid shutting down regularly. For hours on end, we lie prostrate, vulnerable, and undignified on our beds, completely unaware and unable to work on our to-do lists and ambitions. Presidents snore. Queens drool on silk pillows. Celebrities wake up with bad breath and messy hair. Geniuses roll out of bed with foggy brains, groping for the coffee pot.
I’ve been doing extra chores this week, since my wife Jessica is out of the country. Even with the freezer full of food she left us, it still takes a lot of time and effort to keep things going around here. Dishes and clothes and bathrooms don’t clean themselves, and it doesn’t matter how many times I brush the floor, it’s dirty again. I knew this was coming, and I do housework anyway, but there’s another side of the job that I’ve found more difficult than the extra physical labour involved in being the only adult in a house with three children. There’s a hidden weight in housework that is heavier than all the dishes and laundry and dirt combined: The mental strain of keeping up with all the various things that need to happen, and when, and how.
Our family loves camping. As soon as we get home from one excursion, we start looking forward to the next. But why?
It’s tons of work.
The packing takes ages. There’s lots of specific (and bulky) equipment needed, and there are complicated logistics like cooking without a kitchen. Even with all the equipment, it’s still uncomfortable. Air mattresses are nice, but the nights are still cold, the walls are still thin, the showers and toilets are far away, and somehow the bugs seem to prefer being inside the tent to anywhere else in the world. I guess they don’t mind the fact that we all smell like the fire.
We have a good, warm house and comfortable beds. Why would we do this to ourselves?
My wife and I got married 15 years ago this week. Shortly after, I wrote a short poem for my new bride:
Are there seasons to love, new months and years bring?
If seasons there are, our love is the Spring
A sapling still budding, fresh fruit on the vine
With roots planted deep in the well of Divine
Must needs there be Winter? I haven’t a clue
My prayer is to always be growing the New
But seasons can come, and seasons can go
Our love will remain, it will always be so
Though slowly, yet surely, this oak of the Lord
Will grow up precisely as it has been told
Till stands in God’s garden a tree strong and true
That brings Him a smile as He’s passing through
I suppose it’s natural when you begin something to think of the ending. But there’s something else I didn’t think of so much back then, something we’re living a lot of right now. It’s something you might call “the middle”, or in the words of the poem, that “slowly, yet surely” bit. Saplings may be full of exciting potential, and mature oaks of awe-inspiring strength, but it’s the transformation from one to the other that accounts for the majority of the life of the tree. And our marriage.
I promise I was there for my appointment this morning, but the queue was long.
They called my name, and I wasn’t even inside the door yet because of the crowd. So I waited around for 45 minutes until I noticed that the people who came in after me were being called, and asked the worker coming back from the toilet – he figured out what had happened and let me go next. But still, I lost 45 minutes this morning because they were eager to save 2.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much, but I’ve got bigger stories, about bigger injustices. Plenty of them. The times I’ve been blamed for things I didn’t do, the friends who betrayed me, the hard work and sacrifice that was never enough… if you’ve been on earth for a few years, you’ve got stories, too. Probably we could sit and tell them all night, if we wanted to. Maybe we do. It feels good to unload all the injustice of the world on a willing ear. It grants a kind of release, but the trouble with re-opening and bleeding through old wounds is that it doesn’t actually help them heal.