Saturday, June 8, 2013

Brain cells, manna and zucchini

It's been a quieter week than any in recent memory, quiet enough that I am inclined to take my spare brain cell out of cold storage and see if I can get a synapse going with the remaining functional one in my head.

Brain Cell Plush Doll
Brain cell. I bought my spare at
After the frenzy of May I have a lull in my workload. That means I'm thinking about what I might do with my life, which direction I should head, what I should write next. This is hubris, of course. I know that other people make and actually execute plans for the future, but that is not how my life goes. When there's a job I'm supposed to do it whacks me in the face. When I make plans of my own something major derails them. I have learned to prioritize flexibility over five-year planning. 

I am mindful that the just-enough just-in-time flow of work that characterizes my professional life is a huge gift. The flip side of it that I have far less control over my life (and budget) than I'd like. Manna is great for a short-term crisis. But after a number of years of it, I'd prefer a different solution. 

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I've pondered manna a lot in recent years. It's occurred to me that one major challenge for the wilderness generation must've been their perpetually whining children. Never mind that 5 p.m. low blood-sugar meltdown; imagine the daily complaint, "Manna again, Mom?" I imagine  the parental reply was often a bit testy.

You'd think that after a decade or so the kids gave up asking, and that perhaps the parents clued into the fact that their own whining to God sounded a lot like their kids', but this was not the case. We are slow learners, we humans, especially in spiritual matters. Forty years in the desert of day-in, day-out dependence on God for survival might be enough time to trust him day-in and day-out, but probably not. 

I sometimes suspect that Adam and Eve left their spare brain cell behind in the Garden of Eden. You know which one I mean: the one that allowed them to remember the lesson they had been taught.

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When I was a girl, my dad had a truck garden a few miles from home. The summer I was 17 and had my first full-time job, the family went on vacation without me. I had to tend the garden in their absence. It was a bonanza year for green beans and zucchini, and I picked and hauled home a grocery bag of each daily. Then I sat on the front steps of our suburban home, snapping ends off of beans in the evening, watching the neighborhood or chatting with friends. I'd blanch the beans, let them cool, and put them in freezer bags.

The zucchini were another matter. There are many ways to cook it, and that summer we tried them all. I like zucchini. But after you've had steamed zucchini, baked zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini casserole, stuffed zucchini  and stewed zucchini, you begin to realize that no matter what you do to it, it's still zucchini. Slice it, dice it, rice it, spice it -- it's zucchini.

There are lots of things in life like that. When I use my spare brain cell, I know there is nutritional value in zucchini, even when you're sick of eating it. There are things we learn when we are forced to go past what we like, past what we want, past what we think we can stand. There are good things we can learn from not-getting our desires, from not-escaping a hard situation, from being pushed into learning 400 ways to cook what we've been given. 

There are things you learn about zucchini that you suspect you could have gotten through life without. There are things you'd rather have not learned.

Perhaps what we want is for zucchini (and manna) to be optional. We appreciate it when we know we need or want it, but only then. The rest of the time it's just zucchini.

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