Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Simple Things, aka Slowing Down A Bit

Yesterday, my wife and I had a modest dinner.  For an appetizer, we split a garden fresh tomato.  It was perfectly red, ripe, and naturally sweet.  With a little salt and pepper, each bite was delectable.  The main course was farm fresh Italian sausage, made on the grill with garden zucchini and summer squash.  The entire meal came from our neighbor's farm.  Sometimes, simplicity is the best sauce.  What surprised the both of us was how quickly we became full from just the tomato.  Ordinarily, splitting a medium sized tomato wouldn't have this affect.  It's almost as if nature had packed it with so many vitamins and fiber, it filled us up in a deeper way.  Instead of just taking up stomach space, it actually provided nourishment, and the body could feel it.  In response, the appetite felt satiated because the body had finally gotten what it needed.

In a similar way, slowing down helps us to take in the spiritual vitamins and minerals we need.  In a time when people are busily running from this scheduled event to that, it is easy to get caught up in the anticipation and not savor the moment.  It's a form of spiritual fast food--you can gorge yourself with activity and be starving for meaning.  In my own life, I find myself harried on a frequent basis.  Running to the post office, the bank, filing things, drafting documents and meeting with clients, it is easy to forget to slow down sometimes.  I was looking out the window yesterday and noticing that summer is rapidly drawing to an end.  There won't be many more days of the leaves on the trees, and it will be cold here in Ohio.  There will be plenty of time for indoor activities.

A friend of mine was the postmaster of a small post office.  I used to see him every day.  We would chat about this and that.  He always took the time to be friendly and make the visit an authentic experience.  He was never in a hurry, and the pace of the post office was perfect in this way.  It is the little things like this that helps make life more flavorful.  He recently retired, and I am going to miss him.  In the big push to increase "efficiency", older postal workers are being encouraged to retire while many of the smaller offices are being closed.  The lucky ones are only having their hours cut back.  It's unfortunate, because these small offices and these seasoned workers in rural areas are like garden vegetables--they taste just a little more sweet because they are closer to home.  They aren't rushed, they aren't plucked early and shipped from afar--they are personal and thoroughly human.  The same goes for chatting with your local carrier and Saturday delivery.  In an increasingly atomized society, the mail carrier is sometimes the only human interaction some folks have all day.  As it stands now, we are encouraged to live more and more of our lives interacting with screens--computer monitors, television screens, smartphone screens, and iPad screens.  Going to the county fair, I saw more teenagers looking at their phones receiving text messages than the lonely animals and rides begging for attention.

The whole notion of modern "efficiency" is perplexing.  Somehow, we have become convinced that it is more efficient to ship jobs halfway across the planet so we can have the Chinese make things.  From a bottom line cost perspective, it may be cheaper to make goods this way, but it certainly isn't more efficient, not when you have people needing jobs in the U.S., and not when we used to have factories and an infrastructure designed to manufacture goods and ship them around the U.S.  But efficiency in the U.S. is only measured by cost, not by real-impact cost.  Externalities don't count.  So if I pollute a river to make a pair of shoes and then sell those shoes at a profit but don't have to pay for the environmental cleanup, I am acting "efficiently."  Never mind if this costs the community more in medical costs because more children get leukemia.  This doesn't count.

In a mad world, obsessed with profit and always running, it is nice to take the time to slow down a bit, enjoy a tasty tomato, and open one's mail--while the postal system still exists.

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