The part of this that is a story, at the beginning, is mostly true and very short – hardly even a story, it’s so short. But it’s true nonetheless, in the important ways, and amended appropriately because it isn’t mine.
A number of years ago a dear friend was hosting Thanksgiving dinner. More specifically, a dear friend who at the time had four children, all under the age of seven, the youngest only a few months old, invited friends and family to her house for Thanksgiving dinner because it was easier than getting four children, all under the age of seven, dressed and out of the house and then spending a seeming-eternity worrying about the children’s behavior around breakable things that didn’t belong to them.
So they had Thanksgiving dinner together, with all the usual fare: candles and blessings and gravy and Sister Schubert rolls. And when it came time to say their goodbyes, one of the guests thanked her hostess and added, “next time I’ll come early and bring my silver polish.”
Of course the silver was tarnished and unpolished; my friend was busy taking care of the baby.
I’ve told this story many times over the past few months, mostly at work when making decisions with a group. We’ll come to a certain critical point, and I’ll ask something along the lines of, “do we need to polish the silver or take care of the baby?” It isn’t always as easy a decision as you might think. And besides, the silver is a mighty siren with a quick, shiny prize at the end. The baby is messy, the reward often elusive.
And yes, it’s similar to “keeping the main thing the main thing,” except that, to me, it’s more like what my mother’s friend Mary A. used say, that a well-dusted house was in need of more good books and a comfy reading chair.
And, as an aside, the world is complicated mix of house-cleaners and readers. When you’ve grown up being one, it can be hard to comprehend the other. Moreover, it isn’t just that there are silver people and baby people, but that the notion of which one’s the baby and which the silver can vary greatly.
I’ve been thinking about the baby and the silver, and about well-dusted houses, partly because it’s Thanksgiving week, but mostly because, come a certain age, the line defining what really matters begins to look different. Also, it has been a particularly long year. A long two years, even. Or 16 o 25 or 50. Perspective is the gift and curse of history. Pick any distant reference point, and the path from it will always be the same.
Here’s one: Last year I spent Thanksgiving weekend starting (and then recuperating from) a new exercise program. I’ve kept it up for the full 12 months since, faithful (almost) every Saturday morning at 9:00 and sometimes days in between. I have both a few new friends and stronger shoulders as a result (Bernard says my yoga pants look different now, too), but the price was surrendering what had become my sacred Saturday morning writing time. It was an easy enough decision at the time. I needed a shiny distraction.
Only, as it so happens, I think I just needed a change of routine, an interruption to force re-examining my priorities. In the past 12 months I’ve actually written more, and made more art, and cleaned less than in the year before that, though I’ve shared less of what I’ve written or made because most of it is messy and unfinished.
And no, I don’t know how all this ends, either, whether things eventually fall back into a neat, predictable order again or not. But that’s how I know for certain that it’s the baby, and not the silver, at least to me.
So, when I go missing here and there, as I have in recent weeks and as a couple of you have been kind enough to notice, think of babies and tarnish and dust, and you’ll know exactly where I am.
Food | Week of November 28, 2016