When a peach isn't "just" a peach, it can be pathway which leads from blossom to blossom, from joy to joy.
by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted “Peaches.”
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee.
What led to this
One thing I love about this poem by Li-Young Lee is how the poet sees the peach not just as a single piece of fruit, but also as a receptacle of all that has led to that fruit. Everything that brought it here: "From blossoms... From laden boughs... from hands..." is now part of the fruit. This long-viewed perspective stops and looks carefully enough to see the history of a thing. The peach is the blossom that budded on the tree, sunshine that made it grow, the people who gathered to pick it, the air in which it ripened, the dust that landed on its fuzzy skin, the paper bag it was placed in, the sign that was painted and placed beside the road pointing passersby to its presence. It is not a single, independent object, but a culmination of events and circumstances, sun, and rain.
If we look closely, nothing just appears from nothing and then disappears. So often, we look at people or things as real only in the moment of our own encounter with it, only significant in how we perceive it. To see what has led to the peach, to take, to carry, to hold, to eat all that has brought it into being, is to honor both the peach and those things that formed it. It is probably impossible for us to live in complete awareness of the history of everything we encounter, and the way it is connected to the community of creation around it, but to acknowledge that it has a history and connection is, by itself, an important recognition.
The present moment
Are there moments you remember that have been so full of joy, life, and meaning that you know you will always remember them? Are there times when you have skimmed through a moment without truly absorbing it, knowing afterwards (and maybe even at the time) that you were missing something that you shouldn't miss? To stop and let a particular moment fill up with the meaning it is capable of holding is to live more fully and consciously.
The ripe peach is worth savoring. "Not only the skin, but the shade/not only the sugar, but the days." The peach contains within it all—"the whole orchard." The attitude in this poem demonstrates a way to slow down, let respect and gratitude and deep pleasure imbue the experience, a greater possibility if you enter the experience unrushed and open to the moment.
It is easy to think that the fuller the calendar, the fuller the life we will lead, but what would happen if we soaked ourselves fully in one experience instead of taking small bites out of several? Have you ever suddenly realized that you were only half-engaged in a day or time that was significant in your life? Perhaps you were so busy thinking about what needed to be done next that you weren't fully present. The biblical example of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus in their home can be a warning to not let this happen to us.
[Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10:39-40
Like Martha, we can easily be so busy with the peripheral that we pay little attention to what ought to be central. If we move through one thing after another, without giving adequate attention to any of them, what will we have accomplished at the end—a string of half-lived experiences? Think what it would be like to absorb everything from one experience before running to somewhere or something else.
Sometimes there are things that just have to be done. And sometimes experiencing the moment is more important than the details. This summer when significant family events took place, I sometimes did it well and sometimes did it poorly. At times, my to-do list has ruled me and at other times I have seen this happening and been able to put down the list and just participate in what was happening around me. It's been a mixed bag.
What it leads to
"There are days we live/as if death were nowhere/in the background."
I am a firm believer that if we allow our senses and mind and soul enough space, our lived experience will deepen as a result. If we pay attention, we will come to moments that are ripe, delicious, worth expressing gratitude for. This poem reminds me of giving thanks before a meal, acknowledging the grace being given to us. When an experience is allowed to hold its full meaning, we recognize the true value of a gift we are given, such as the peach, and gratitude is the by-product.
There are practices, such as Christian meditation, that help make us ready and receptive to experiences that come our way. These four practices are helpful to me:
- Slow down
- Look carefully
- Experience fully
- Express gratitude
And then, sometimes, something unexplainable happens, and we find ourselves lifted above our abiding human fears by something as "small" as a peach. This is where the gratitude comes in. For me, saying thank-you is the necessary completion; without that, for me, the joy of the experience is incomplete.
Reflection Questions: Do you like the pace you are setting as you travel through your days? When you want to be more present, what practice helps make it possible?
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