from across the aisle i hear rapid percussion. a dull downpour. the grocer, a kid, maybe 16, hefts a wax coated cardboard box to eye-level and tips it forward with the precision of a dump truck. a red onion rolls past my toe. it disappears under a shelf. lucky bugger escaped, i think to myself. a memory surfaces of potatoes bouncing into a blue milk crate. crickets and cicadas cut the air into high pitched rhythms, pulses and sustains. my babcia's humming and muttering setting a tempo for the beat. once in a while she glances over her shoulder, eyes the crate, then me, then the crate, 'potrząsnąć'-she says. shake it. the contents roll around each other, some leap headlong tumbling into the dirt trenches at my feet. now, i imagine the relief of their roots reconnecting with the dirt. a moment of communication, reconnection. then, i just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. scooping them up, stealing their hope and sealing their fate, before she noticed. she glances again and i know i have to shake them again. 'cichy' -gently, she reminds. he watches me for a really long time. i work in gridlines. left to right. top to bottom. i wonder if he wonders what i am looking for. one by one i check, and pile, and order and categorize 100 avocados. i know what i am looking for. uniform brown skin, soft crown and bottom, a slight give to the flesh, a green seat under the loosened stem. even a potato deserves dignity. it demands an understanding. she understood this. he doesn't. i pack up my brood and mention to him that an onion escaped under the shelf. 'no problem, i got it' -he says. i pay and as i pass out the sliding doors i can still see the onion sitting motionless in hiding. the young grocer has moved on to the next aisle likely forgetting his promise.
what grows from a buried heart? a stand of spruce birch oak in silent congregation impart like elders leaning in sharing upstretched dignity. bent by wind clenched by cold quenched by rain young and old maple pine swapping stories signaling forgotten times and fragile futures. i imagine the secret of trees is that they see themselves like a family in the forest ensouled entwined and buried root down still dreaming in seeds.
When I was in university, I liked to take the train home to Oshawa. When I could, I would meet my dad at Union Station, at his office, and we would ride home together.
Sometimes we would each read. Sometimes we would talk. Sometimes just sitting in our own solitudes, staring out the window at Lake Ontario frothing in the distance, passed the time.
On one occasion I asked him why he worked for the bank. My question was soaked with antagonism. I thought back to all of the times while walking through his office, I felt that his work was life-sucking. I would be looking at his workplace measuring happiness from a distance and thinking that I would never want work like this for me.
He had talents that I understood, he could write and draw, and he seemed to get a lot of joy from being creative, so why bother with the banking? I probably should have led with a compliment about his writing or drawing, it definitely would have been kinder, but I had no clear words to compliment, so I poked.
For me, being authentic meant doing exactly what you wanted, when you wanted- reality be damned. Being authentic also meant being singular in belief and confident despite counterpoint. I was bold. He was calm. When he answered it was measured and clear. As he continued to stare out the window he said. ‘Even though I don’t love banking, I have found the art in it.’
Stunned and now silent I wanted to challenge him again. Instead, I stared out at the water and mumbled something mumbly.
He explained that ‘Work is necessary. But it does not have to be everything.’ And ‘…committing to work is one type fuel for family well-being.’ I asked about his writing and his art in a backhanded way, he responded with the sage coolness of someone who has a handle on the big picture. He assured me that he has never stopped asking himself ‘am I on the right track?’ Or, ‘Is my work challenging enough to keep me at it one more year?’ And, ‘Who else depends on the work that I do?’
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t.
But now, I get it.