Monday, July 21, 2008

Notes from the Field (XI)

Stop and Smell the Strawberries

I love fruit! Just adore it! Sometimes I think instead of calling myself a vegetarian, I should be labeled a fruitatrian. Green apples – tart and crisp - are what I can be seen eating most of the year. But summertime brings my very favorite of nature’s sweet treats – peaches, plums, blueberries, and strawberries.

There is something about eating these juicy yummies that scream, “Slow down! Enjoy! Feel the juice run down your face, and between your fingers!” And just the other day, as I was savoring a bowl of mammoth sized strawberries (I always wonder if I should worry when they’re that big), I was reminded of two folktales where these succulent red berries taught huge life lessons.

The first tale is one that is probably familiar to anyone who has studied Buddhist, or certain yogic meditation techniques. A woman finds herself in the jungle running from tigers. She goes as fast as her feet will carry her, until finally she finds herself at a cliff that has a long vine hanging from it. Hoping to climb down to the valley below, she begins to descend, only to see that there are tigers below her as well. As both sets of tigers roar, she notices that there is a tiny, but persistent mouse gnawing on the vine. But then her eyes spy a small patch of bright, plump strawberries. She picks one, pops it in her mouth, and thoroughly enjoys it’s deliciousness.

I love this story, for if ever there was an example of “being here now” and “enjoying the present moment”, this is it. Faced with almost certain death, no matter where she turns, this woman is able to see the beauty that is in front of her, and instead of bemoaning what her fate may be, she relishes in the sweetness of that instant, by eating a strawberry.

How I wish I could say that I lived like that – not worried about the “tigers” I left behind, or the ones that may await me. To often the chewing that I do is not on a piece of fruit, but on a conversation – real or imaged - or a moment, probably long forgotten by everyone but me.

The second story is a Native American tale about a married couple who have a fight. The wife storms out of their home, enraged. After a few minutes, the husband realized he must apologize to his wife, and takes off after her, only to find that she is so far ahead of him, he can’t catch her. The Sun, whom the husband asks for help, shines down on the earth where the woman is walking, and a patch of blueberries appear. The wife ignores them, and continues her angry march. Next, the sun conjures up blackberries. But, still the wife walks on. It is only after the Sun creates a brand new fruit – strawberries, that the wife stops. As she eats the berries, her anger fades, and the couple reunites. Once again, strawberries save the day.

Now, I know as well as anyone, life isn’t always like the folktales I tell. Sometimes – most times – it’s hard not to let the “tigers’ consume you with worry, and it can be all too easy to walk away from someone who loves you, because you’re pissed off. But maybe, during this season where strawberries are abundant, and fresh, we can use them to remind us that life is so very, very sweet – and all we have to do is slow down long enough to see it.

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