Growing up I remember that although my mother did all the cooking at home, my father would always make sure there was healthy snack food around, like carrots, celery and fresh fruit. On weekends I’d sometimes sit at the kitchen table with him while he peeled and sliced the fruit and vegetables he’d bought from the market that morning.
This was before the days of television as we know it today. Sure, we all had a TV, but it was black & white and showed not a lot more than the news. At least, nothing that was interesting to a six-year old child.
So to pass the time, I’d sit and watch my father cutting up apples, peeling oranges, slicing celery. Of course, I wanted to help, but he wasn’t so sure about placing a knife into the hands of a six-year old. Eventually he’d give me the parer and say that I could help him peel the carrots.
Now I was never the sort of kid who could stay sitting in one place for long. I had way too much energy for that. So, as much as I genuinely wanted to help, there was little chance that I would take care to peel the carrots with as much attention to detail as my father had. He was an engineer, and so by definition, a perfectionist. I was a restless kid.
I also had very little patience. So in order to get through my task quickly I’d make a game with myself to see how quickly I could peel each carrot. I’d run the parer down the sides of the carrot as quickly as I could and then go back over each one a second time to clean off any remaining bits of skin. I’d then turn to my father and proudly show him how well I could clean the carrots by going over them twice. With complete matter-of-factness and absolutely no criticism in his voice at all, he’d say to me, “why not clean them properly the first time?”
It’s funny how we remember these little incidents in our childhood. My father (who passed away 11 years ago) had an astonishing memory, but I’m quite certain he would never have remembered this event. I wonder why I’ve never forgotten it.
In retrospect I realise that this time of food preparation would have been a mindfulness activity for my father. He would sit by himself at the table in silence, no television or music, not even talking, just being. He would carefully and meticulously peel, cut, slice, and place everything in containers that would go in the fridge, ready to snack on when desired. I didn’t know it at the time (and I sincerely doubt that he was aware of this either) but he was probably stilling his mind through this mechanical, thought-less activity.
I could have learned much about patience from my father, if only I could have sat still long enough to learn!
As an adult I’ve learned that patience is not something we need to endure but that it can be pleasurable in its own right. The pace of our lives is too fast. We do everything quickly – eat, work, exercise, drive. We seem to be so focused on the destination that we don’t take the time to enjoy the journey. And then we wonder why we feel stressed. Frequently and with some amusement, I’ve watched drivers speed ahead, zigging and zagging through the traffic, just to get to the red light only one car ahead of the drivers they cut off. And I wonder if they feel it was really worth it – though, of course, they’re probably completely unaware, just mindlessly doing what they’ve always done.
The funny thing is that the more rushed you are for time, the more likely it is you’ll get through everything you need to do more effectively if you slow it all down. Like peeling the carrots once slowly and carefully instead of twice quickly.
Jon Kabat Zinn says “Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept that sometimes things must unfold in their own time”.
Nowadays I peel the carrots like my father used to and enjoy watching the skin wrap around the parer and then fall into the sink, the bright orange slowly falling against the stainless steel. And I think of him every time.
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