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June 2015
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August 2015

Posts from July 2015

The Tomato Way of Being

Tomoto from a friend's garden


I’m not sure what’s happening, but lately I have been making new friends as if I’m a cheerleader struttin’ around with pompoms. Or it could be that us mid-lifers are so desperate to get away from the routines that we have levelled into, that any woman who can hold a conversation will do (which, by this time, should be all of us). Going back many, many years here, I can remember how picky I used to be about who I would be friends with. It was all based on some psychic click of recognition. It was like picking out tomatoes, so many just weren’t the perfect degree of ripeness. Maybe that hyper-selectively was because I was an introvert, or maybe it was that I feared being judged and passed over for another tomato. Which leads to my tomato story.

When I initially went to Israel in the spring of ’82, I participated in a six-month work-study program on a kibbutz (half the time learning Hebrew; the other half working on the kibbutz). My first job, disappointingly since I had envisioned myself as a new wave of pioneer building the land and not a woman still stuck in the kitchen, was to sort through crates of tomatoes in the prep kitchen. I was to rinse the tomatoes, and put the good ones in one bin and the bad ones in another bin. At home I had not bought tomatoes because they were tasteless, but I was still able to discern a good, firm tomato from a bad one in the best tradition of an American supermarket shopper. In other words, if there was a mushy part, no matter how small, or a blemish, no matter how insignificant, it was no good. Nothing with an imperfection was to make it into my basket.

After going through about four crates, the woman in charge looked at my breakdown of tomatoes: five in the good bin and an overflowing bin of bad tomatoes. She looked at me with the scorn befitting a spoiled child, picked up a “bad” tomato, cut off the offending part—half! —and placed the rest of the tomato into the good bin. She left me to redo the job. Who knew that you didn’t have to look at the tomato as a whole?

Which brings me back to friendships. As we acknowledge that there are aspects of ourselves that don’t represent our proudest parts, and discover that we can be as dull as a never-sharpened tomato knife, we learn that it’s no big deal and that all that counts is that we focus on the firm spots—in ourselves and others. The tomato-way of friendship can be liberating.

Yet, alongside that deeper understanding of how to interact with others, I have also come to the exact opposite understanding about how to view myself. I see now that to be a content person, one who can peacefully go between interactions with friends and the inaction of sitting alone, I must accept the totality of the tomato: mushy parts and all. I finally recognize that those seemingly discordant parts of myself (or those that don’t adhere to the image that I try to project to myself of myself) are not in conflict. Those parts don’t prove separate things about myself; rather, they should soothe me by enabling me to accept with honesty the fullness of my personality. There is no compartmentalized self, there is only the commitment to not ignore or disparage even the mushiest of parts.

So, do not do unto others as you would do unto yourself and you just might have a social life.

Contentment Is a Place

Summer balcony

It is a beautifully blue June day with sunbeams graying the black floorboards, a slight breeze cooling the afternoon heat, children’s playground calls ringing out, and me, sitting on my chair, looking out / in. During this season of travel plans and gatherings, the ease of sitting and thinking without concerns and complications feels as luxurious as a Caribbean beach. It is not that I have had enough of seeing the sights of the world, but the solitude of mind is far gentler on my couch than meandering cobblestone paths alone while passing couples and families.

There is a way, I am coming to understand, to make insularity feel like the best alternative and not the only option. I rearranged my balcony to feel less rustic hut and more vacation bungalow. A rose plant, on sale because it needs TLC, is giving that to me by adding its brilliant red blooms to my assortment of practical herbs. The rhythm of a home-based retreat enables me to find only comfort and avoid those confrontations of self that, inevitably, call forth wonderings of lackings, and I realize, suddenly, that it is strength that I have crafted. Why wander lonely when I can sit comforted?

The other day I read an article that stated that it is better for one’s long-lasting sense of self and self-preservation to be content than to seek happiness, which, I assume we all know by now, is transitory. Sounds about right, but it does take a long time of seeking the high to realize that it is too dependent on others to ever be of intrinsic value. It also takes a long time to realize what one needs to be content.

A job I enjoy, at which I’m good and want to keep improving. Vacation time long enough to focus on what I need, which has narrowed down to time spent with words. Volunteer activities that I expect to bring me fulfillment and not just a pat on the back. Friends, in emails, on the phone, down a path, on the other side of a table, with whom my life has been woven into an enveloping fellowship. Body acceptance that finally enables me to go sleeveless. Family, essentially the three women—daughters and mother—with whom there exists a spirit of independence and dependence that makes me feel just the right amount of needed.

But still (and this has taken more days of introspection since that blue June day to understand) there is an emptiness. Does being content mean accepting the present for what it is and what it is not? Getting to this calm point has involved two major relinquishments: love and vanity. No expectation to meet a man and no expectation for writerly recognition. Two hard things to accept. But life does feel easier, even if that acceptance is, at times, overlapped with loss and regret. True contentment, then, must not be guided by willful ignorance, but by forthright acknowledgement.

I wonder why it takes half a lifetime to stop crying about what will not be. The power of wanting what we learn to want. The time it takes to honestly assess one self. It is hard, isn’t it, to realize that you are not who you want to be, but are merely who you are. Change is not always possible, and even if it were, who would you be—and for whom? Half a lifetime gives you time to look around, time to realize that you could not be another, time to nod we got this to the self, time to try stilettos and revert to flats. It takes time to fill a space with what seems necessary and to empty that space of what is not necessary. It takes time to sculpt a soul.