Two days ago I opened the refrigerator and found a little melamine bowl with fruit in it. Several slices of banana were artistically arranged with sections of tangerine, all not covered of course (I have repeatedly failed to communicate to my family the value of covering food when putting it in the refrigerator, although I continue to try).
I knew that the “artist” was my younger daughter, who enjoys putting together various combinations of fruits in visually-pleasing patterns, often while talking aloud to an imagined audience as though she is on a cooking show. Usually she consumes her creations right away, so figuring she must have gotten interrupted somehow and would come back for it, I left it in the refrigerator for her.
This morning I noticed the fruit still there, untouched. And because it would soon go bad, and because I can’t stand to waste food that is even remotely edible, I decided to eat it for breakfast. As soon as I bit into one of the tangerine sections I realized why she had abandoned her creation. This one small section had about four seeds in it, which took some effort to extricate, especially after I had crunched one or two of them in my assumption that they didn’t exist. I made my way to the next section, and the next, figuring maybe that one section was an anomaly, but no. Every single section was packed with seeds. However, I was determined that this food not go to waste. Section by section I took out the seeds and ate whatever mangled tangerine bits were left after the removal. In between sections I ate the seed-free slices of banana as a sort of respite.
We’ve made things so easy for ourselves, haven’t we? Seed-free clementines. Seedless grapes. Seedless cucumbers, even though regular cucumbers have seeds that we can eat. Watermelons with tiny little easily-digested white seeds that you don’t have to remove or spit. Frozen peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Bills that debit from your bank account automatically and electronically. Cars you can start and open with the push of a button. And on and on. True, much is positive and helpful about the improvements that this era has introduced into our lives. True, also, how we live now overloads us in a way that makes such improvements more of a need than a luxury. So what’s the problem?
This morning as I dug bitter-tasting tangerine seed fragments out of my teeth, it hit me, what the problem is. Life has seeds, fellow humans. LIFE HAS SEEDS. And we are out of the habit of handling them. As the need to manage inconveniences recedes from so many aspects of our daily lives, we are less accustomed to taking time and effort to work through challenges.
Expecting the seeds was routine for, say, settlers in the early 1800s who had to build their own homes, sew their own clothes, and farm and hunt and churn and clean and skin and cure and preserve just to have a meal on the table every day. Effort, challenge, and loss were an integral part of every day of their lives. But I think it is a tough paradigm shift for us. We have seen so many things improved and smoothed over, so many challenges taken off the table, that perhaps we have a subconscious notion that all of the seeds can be removed.
But we can’t take the seeds out of life, and when we find them, we are often thrown. We didn’t think it would happen to us. In the gap between the expectation of no seeds and the reality of seeds lies so much pain and frustration.
Neither can we predict when and where we will find them. As one tangerine may have many seeds and another few, different lives will have different numbers and types of challenges. You can’t see through the skin of the tangerine, or through a person’s façade, or into your own future, to know where the seeds are, how many there are, what kind they are. You just have to bite into each section, each day, and find out.
I’m trying to face the seeds, handle the seeds, accept the seeds. It has occurred to me what a seed is. Inside the seed, I remind myself, is fuel for new life. Inside the seed is something that can grow. I don’t yet know exactly how I will plant it and nurture it. I don’t yet know what exactly will grow, any more than I knew the seed would be here in the first place. I don’t consider it a fair exchange for what the seed represents. But there it is, a sour and thorny little package of potential in my hand.