When I was in graduate school, I worked at a really good restaurant that some friends of mine were opening. It was a small place, and serious about their food, drink, and service. To support that, they made every staffer go through an intensive and prolonged training where you tasted every single thing on the menu (oh, hardship) and learned about how it’s made and how to describe it. The wine part turned out to be especially interesting to me, because we were given the proper schooling on how to “taste” wine, and I found that I resisted mightily. I could taste all the same things everyone else was talking about, and the descriptions all made sense and I enjoyed having a new vocabulary, especially one with such cultural cache (how the eff do you write a French accent in here?). But I could not, and cannot, let wine roll all the way off the edges of my tongue. It is way too intense for me. It’s almost physically painful. Our teacher, the wife of the team (who has since completed sommelier school at Windows on the World and opened her own wine shop) was amused — apparently there are people who are considered “super-tasters” who have these issues. That seems too fancy a title for me, but the fact remains that I cannot abide the intensity of wine that way. Some folks can’t drink hard liquor for the same reason; others hate spicy food. Sometimes experience is just too much and we want to calm the stimulus or avoid it altogether.
I tend to think about mindful living in the same way, especially parenting. I’ve realized lately that I spent much of the fall in kind of a daze, dealing with one familial health issue after another, and so rarely actually attending to the people rather than the problems. I’m becoming aware of this as I see how much my kids have grown, how the shapes of their faces are changing, the growth of downy hair on their arms and cheeks. We walked at the pond today and Ezra stomped puddles the whole way there, rather than riding in the stroller; Malachi wanted to get out and walk, holding onto my hands, up and back, up and back one particular stretch. I’m trying not to avoid the anguish of their growing up anymore. I’m trying to think of the truth I heard of a child’s first day of school: how terrified you are for them, and for you, and how thrilled you are as well. That the two not defeat each other, or cancel each other out, seems like a major goal, or perhaps a small miracle. So that’s how I’m trying to live these days: to see and relish the absurdity of softness and roundness that is still, for a while, Chi’s little body, and not to worry about what comes next. Many days, that seems too tall an order, because how else do we prepare ourselves for the angst and chaos ahead? But maybe all this mindful stuff is right after all, and the only reality is now, and the only truly great thing we can do is show up.