- Carroll Devine
Worry the Beans
Growing up in New Orleans years ago, so much was predictable, reliable, and sensible. Mondays meant red beans and rice for lunch at school and red beans and rice for supper. Fridays promised seafood.
Families shared conversation, however calm or chaotic, during mealtimes. One of us hand-washed the dishes while another dried them. Did we have more time then, without houses full of “time-saving” devices?
On hot summer evenings, neighbors sat on their front porches or stoops and talked while keeping sideways eyes on their kids playing ball in the street. Life was reason-Able then. We certainly didn’t have it all together, didn’t even realize some of our faults and shortcomings as a society, but we could actually trace the “logic” of our predominant habits, for good or bad.
For example, neighbors were prompted or even compelled to sit outside on hot evenings because there was no air-conditioning in the homes. This caused them to slow down, to see each other face to face, and to relate in one way or another. They couldn’t hide behind electronic devices or within tightly sealed and cooled houses.
And Mondays were red bean days because they were also time-consuming wash days. During those pre-automatic-washing-machine years, our mothers and grandmothers had only wringer washers which demanded their time to manually put each single laundry item twice through two rollers that squeezed them flat. In between, when the machine was just agitating, the women could spend time at the stove “worrying the beans.” This meant paying careful attention to the simmering beans they were stirring, smelling, and maybe tasting for rightness and doneness. As there were no shortcuts, this sometimes became a moving meditation. In fact, anything we devote our singular attention to, for whatever amount of time, can become a meditation.
The trouble is, we live in a world that demands increasing fragmentation of our time and attention. We multi-task to the nth degree. We spend hours with “social” media (which is anything but social) looking for escape perhaps, or “looking for love in all the wrong places” as we seek validation and connection. There’s not enough time in a person’s lifetime to connect in all the ways we’d like, with all the people we’d like, to learn all we want to learn, to champion all the causes we feel called to champion, or even to find out the real truth behind the rhetoric that bombards us from every direction every day.
But we could single out one cause, one issue, one probe of history, and become educated about it and more able to talk or argue reasonably about it. Too often we don’t. So, commonly we content ourselves with making choices or supporting causes based on inadequate or inaccurate information, making genuine communication impossible with other people who support other causes or have differing opinions. We cannot have any reasonable discourse about the causes or issues, but can only gossip, scream loudly and point self-righteous fingers, while closing our ears, minds and hearts to one another. No time to really research the truth or even to listen openly. No time. No time but the present. No time like the present.
The poet T. S. Eliot had asked “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
Perhaps we should take a step back, meditate, and worry the beans.