It’s peach season here at the Jersey shore. The farm stand on the way into Cape May Point has a big display right out front, better advertising than any roadside sign. So of course we bought a half-bushel, noting that the peaches were still a bit firm, and thinking we’d have fruit to enjoy for the week.
They ripened overnight, which is how we found ourselves standing over the kitchen sink the other day, eating the most delicious, juicy, warm, perfect peach. And eyeing the rest of the basket with alarm. Now what?
Of course we could put them into the refrigerator, or blend them into smoothies (ooh, or daiquiris!) or bake them into muffins, and they’d be good in all those forms. But they would not be as good as they are this very minute, dripping warm juice down our chins into the sink.
Maybe it’s vacation brain, but the peach dilemma–admittedly minor–has me thinking about my conservative approach to so many things (politics not included). I am a firm believer in delayed gratification. As a child, I was always the kid who still had chocolate Easter eggs left in her basket around Memorial Day. As an adult, I’ll save novels I’m excited about for months so that I can read them in the perfect setting. (Example from this very week: I brought Bill Clegg’s amazing Did You Ever Have a Family, which I’d been saving since last year, and downed it in four days at the beach.)
Sometimes this approach is grounded in wisdom (this vacation really was the perfect time to read that book, and nine year-old me really should have done her homework before watching Batman). But other times it’s rooted in just plain foolishness, or even fear–as though somehow there would be no chocolate left in the world when the Easter basket ran out.
This reminds me of Jan Richardson’s quoting of W. Paul Jones: Hope is the simple trust that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna. It’s okay to eat it all, God promised the Israelites in Exodus 16. In fact, it’s necessary to eat it all. Hoard it on any day but the Sabbath, and it turns into a smelly mess. (The same may be true of peaches.)
Fear reared its head at the shore in a different way this week, as I stood at the edge of the surf on Sunday afternoon, navigating my usual tension between longing to be in the water and dreading the waves. It is my vacation tradition to vacillate in the shallows all week and finally brave it with cousins on the last day, regretting all the times I didn’t take the plunge. But this year we were with Jeff and Deb, one of my oldest friends and his lovely wife, and Jeff took me by the hand on day one and brought me past the alarming breakers to the sublime rollers beyond. It was the longest I’ve ever been in the ocean without being able to touch the bottom, and it was pure bliss! The next day I bravely followed Jeff and Deb into the surf, and for the rest of the week I’ve been going in all by myself, hesitation giving way ever more quickly to delight.
The ocean is right there, beckoning like a basket of ripe peaches. Delayed gratification, it turns out, is sometimes no gratification at all.
This is also on my mind because Jeff has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. This brilliant and funny man is still both those things, but the creeping fog is visible. He’s handling it remarkably; the Philadelphia Inquirer even did a story about his “coming out” to his students before he retired as a Temple University professor last spring. He’s in a clinical trial, which may slow the progression and buy him time. But time is not infinite. We have had 31 years of friendship, but in my busy, busy life (insert dramatic velcro-ing of back of wrist to forehead), I often take it for granted that Jeff’s there. But the Alzheimer’s is making it clear: to postpone enjoying time together is to waste the gift. Like yesterday’s ocean or an overripe peach, it’s not coming back.
Of course this is true for all our loves and friendships, always. We are all running out of time. We just don’t acknowledge it most days, because we need to go to work, and do the wash, and cut the grass, and pay the bills.
But work, wash, grass, and bills notwithstanding, I want to take home from vacation The Lesson of the Peaches. When life hands me something precious, I want to let myself enjoy it in the measure it deserves.
May your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!