Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hot tomato

We always hear about that light at the end of the tunnel. But we don't talk much about the light that's actually IN the tunnel -- maybe because it's artificial, not real or true?

But the fact is that these days tunnels are no longer dark and scary. We no longer have to feel our way along by touching the walls, nor must we bring our own light to illumine the darkness. So there isn't quite the same sense of relief when we come back out into the light.

Last night I attended a gathering of our monthly conversation group, and our topic for the evening was this: What items or attitudes do you miss most from the past; what new inventions or attitudes do you love most about the present; and what inventions or attitudes would you most like to see in the future?

What interested me about the conversation is that so many of the things that were good also had a downside. Cars, for example, are more reliable, faster, more comfortable, and tend to get better gas mileage. And unlike Henry Ford's early models, today's beauties come in bright colors like this gorgeous tomato red. On the other hand, you can't fix them yourself anymore: there are too many electronics; too many specialized tools required.

Computers have dropped in price and offer immediate access to information, shopping and people that would have been hard to duplicate in our childhood. Blogging, email photographs of grandchildren, Skype, the ease of bill-paying or finding used books or special interest groups were all cited.

But we mourned the loss of personal contact; that sense of community that arises when you have reason to keep venturing into town for goods and services. And there were concerns about the accuracy of information you find on the net, and about the vulnerability of children who get deep into things like Myspace.

What made me think of the tunnel was a discussion we had about fruit. One friend said he loved knowing he could go to the grocery store any time, day or night, and always be able to find all the ingredients he needed for a recipe.

But another mourned the loss of seasonal fruit. "Back in New Jersey we would eat a ripe beefsteak tomato as if it were an apple: it was just as juicy and sweet! And I always looked forward to the first fruit of a season; a fresh ripe strawberry tastes so good after a winter without them!"

There's a wonderful song about Homegrown Tomatoes recorded by Misty River, a group of women singers from Oregon:

Plant 'em in the spring, eat 'em in the summer.
All winter without 'em is a culinary bummer.
I forget all about sweatin' and diggin'
every time I go out and pick me a big one.
Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes,
what would life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can't buy
and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.

There's so much fruit in the store these days, all year round, that we barely notice when the seasons pass or start up -- Just as there's so much light in the tunnel that we barely notice when we emerge back into the sunlight. But the light in the tunnel is artificial, and doesn't offer any of the benefits of natural sunlight, just as the non-seasonal fruit that comes in from points abroad -- picked before ripe, packed, and shipped for days before it actually arrives on our table -- has nothing like the nutrient value of seasonal local produce.

But it is convenient. And the availability of fresh fruit in all seasons means people whose diets might once have been sorely limited in winter time no longer need to go without fresh fruits and veggies.

One of the things we learned in our workshop yesterday is that goodness and health generally flow in the direction of integration and openness, and that the direction away from goodness and health usually leads into either rigidity or chaos.

As I think over last night's discussion, and the pros and cons of all the inventions and attitudes that were discussed, it seems to bear out that truth. I suspect that any time we espouse one way of looking at things at the expense of the alternate view we may be risking rigidity: better, I think, to be open to possibility, and aware of potential drawbacks of any choice we make.

Because we do have to make choices: we cannot sit forever on the fence, unable to decide whether to eat a hothouse tomato or grow our own. If we don't actually go to the store or plant the seed we could die of starvation.

Perhaps what matters in the end is not the choices we make but the way we make them. It doesn't matter so much whether the light is real or artificial; what's important is to keep moving, and to continue to do our best, trusting that, though we may be stuck in tunnels from time to time, there will be light for the journey as well as the full sun that emerges at its conclusion.

When I die, don't bury me
in a box in a cemetery.
Out in the garden would be much better
'cause I could be pushing up homegrown tomatoes.
Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes,
what would life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can't buy
and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes!

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