Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Old Lady and the Young Woman

Years ago I visited Ireland and took a driving tour around a couple of its scenic Atlantic peninsulas. At the time I was not a very experienced driver, and yet I did not hesitate to climb behind the wheel of the rental car, even though the wheel was located where I was used to having the passenger sit. Driving on the opposite side of the road gave me no pause either; I giggled a bit when, in a very charming Irish brogue, the rental agent advised us to “mind the roundabouts” and then politely added, “and please don’t curb the tires,” before depositing the keys in my outstretched palm with ill-disguised skepticism.

How many other Yanks had she seen go from brash to abashed when they returned their bashed rentals? Her attitude did not bother me, though, as I casually drove off on the left side of the road, and nor did the narrow winding roads scribing a thin line between the rolling green hills and the seaside cliffs. Admittedly, the roundabouts were a bit tricky, but it was in negotiating them that I realized that this endeavour could not be conscious—it was like looking at one of those optical illusion pictures that can be seen in two ways, like the young woman and the old lady—once you see both perspectives, it becomes easy to switch back and forth and also to focus on one. Of course, I lost this new point of view every now and then, but we returned the Ford Focus undamaged at the end of the week.

A while ago, Heidi decided that she would like to try a vegan diet for a while. At first, I was extremely resistant. Such a change seemed radical and frankly, a little depressing. Still, I agreed to go along for three weeks, cooking, if not eating, only plant-based foods. It wasn’t long before I discovered that I was having fun trying to create tasty, balanced meals from limited ingredients. I approached as a kind of cooking challenge, ever-mindful that it was only for a limited time. I found that I had kind of a knack for vegan cuisine (despite the inevitable failures: “cheesy” macaroni was the worst), and I also realized that I had been in a bit of a rut before, often relying on a rotation of the same old dishes in various combinations. For the first time in a while, I was thinking about new flavor profiles and researching new recipes and ingredients. I stopped focusing on what I couldn’t cook and turned my attention instead to what I could.

It is not my nature to embrace change, and lately I feel a shroud of dread descending on me at the least provocation. Reform Medicare? Change our email platform? Implement flexible scheduling? Work on Columbus Day? It doesn’t matter how minor the adjustment may be, I don’t want to deal with it, especially if I have not chosen for myself. They say that the Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity, and I can see how that is so. For me the choice is a little different: will it be the old lady or the young woman?

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