Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Broccoli and Brake Fluid

This morning I awoke to an image in my mind's eye of cold, limp broccoli on an almost cleared supper plate. I stayed with it awhile to see if I could ressurect the feeling I had as a little girl of sitting over it in a dark dining room (or so I remember it), while the rest of my family was off enjoying their evening--that special slice of day between suppertime and bedtime. I tried to remember how it ended; I've never stayed with this memory long enough to play it through. Did my mother come, take pity on me, and sweep the plate from the table? Did I hold my nose and swallow bites whole, washed down with what was left of my milk? Did I wrap my limp and smelly punishment in a napkin and take it to the toilet?

I must have eaten some: that was the point. "Broccoli is good for you." Surely my mother said that along the way, because that was the point. I was sitting there long and late because I was refusing to eat something that was good for me. Now as then, my mother is wont to overcook broccoli. Or so I say; actually, that is in dispute. She calls done what I call over done. The flavor changes: we all know this, yes? Take broccoli past green and into the pallor of gray, and you have rearranged its chemical makeup. This results in a new taste, which sure enough I could taste this morning as I revived the moment bodily. That little body. That will. That...knowing, steamrolled. The fact is, that broccoli tasted awful. She might as well have been asking me to eat food sprayed with skunk serum. That it might've been good for me (and this is for sure debatable, because boiling or steaming a vegetable to such a pallor leaves behind scant nutrition for the body's use) was altogether beside the point. It looked bad, it tasted worse, and everything in me was saying "uh uh."

It has happened to all of us, no? We must do something 'for our own good' because someone else says so. In grade school, we must straighten up and fly right. Stand in orderly lines, sit nicely in orderly rows. Cause no disruptions in the classroom. Make good grades. Then we learn to be good citizens, neighbors, employees. We are versed in what it means to be a good Catholic or Jew or Muslim. And good parents: well, they see that their children eat right, right?

"Eat your vegetables."

It's no wonder that by a certain age, we are substantially--however unconsciously--confused. We have been well conditioned, over many years' time, to override (the turn of the stomach over that broccoli, for example), to stifle, to act in spite of our...what to call it? Our core, native, true promptings, let's call it. We are taught to ignore what we know. Know in the gnostic sense: that which we know without learning or training; that which we know though we can't say how we know it. We become expert at ignoring what we know. And we suffer the consequences.

This knowing, Love's way with us, will always do right by us if we allow it.

Last week I allowed it. My car, which by the way is on its fourth front axle in eight years, started this unsettling grip and shudder business on hard turns a couple of weeks ago. One day, I screwed up my courage (with visions of facing my mechanic, Tony, with yet another bad axle, and a sinking doubt that he'd swallow this one under that original warranty too) to kneel down and check the universal joint boot on each side. Nothing. No cracks, no signs of damage or wear. Whew. But still the shudder, the gripping. And damned if it wasn't growing more pronounced with each passing day.

I decided to relax. To employ denial. To reason: "This car just cost me $800 in April. It's only October. It's not time for another big expense." And I took my turns more gently.

Here's where the brake fluid comes in.

I was driving (a long, straight stretch), thinking not at all about the shudder or its implications when, like a sudden breeze through an open window, there it was. There they were, I should say. Three words: power steering fluid. It was as if (though I was driving alone) someone had leaned over and whispered in my ear. Power steering fluid. At which point I thought of the gripping, the shudder, and decided, "I'll check the fluid." I remembered a half-used bottle of what was for all I knew steering fluid in my trunk. It turned out to be brake fluid; eons ago, before this car I think, I needed to up the brake fluid level. Which confirmed, actually, what I had been suspecting. I knew a little about brake fluid, but I knew nothing about power steering fluid. Prior to that whisper in my ear, power steering fluid had been but the vaguest of notions to me. Something overheard once, perhaps. Perhaps while walking through the shop to the front desk to pay Tony.

You may have gathered that I am not a twice a year need it or not, check the tires and brakes and fluids and such, kinda gal. I'll blame my father for that; he was our resident master mechanic, master plumber, master carpenter--all-around brilliant handyman. Everything got taken care of, everything got fixed, and most often we knew not how. Somehow out of all that, I sit here with the attitude that cars should just run. Ha! Until the gas tank starts leaking onto the driveway, or the axle joint starts grinding and seizing up. Until certain things happen that I just can't ignore.

I pulled out my Owner's Manual. I opened the hood. In a foreign quarter (I do check the oil, fill the window wash), I located then dusted off the reserve cap and removed it. I read the indicators on the short dipstick. I wiped, dipped, and looked again: bone dry. Twenty minutes and two dollars later, I returned from a refreshing walk to and from the neighborhood Auto Parts store with my solution. Within three days, the unnerving symptom had subsided, and by the end of a week, I felt like I was steering on satin: that silky smooth glide! It felt like a new car.

All because I relaxed my grip, because I ceased to resist, which left me open to knowing. I had released the "oh no, not another..." visions of big problems and their accompanying stress and expense, and quiet, calm space had taken their place. Into that space came my answer. In the absence of the static, of wringing thought over thought, I could hear it. I heard. I listened. I acted on what I heard.

How well Love knows its way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This brought back the bad broccoli memories in full force. Boy, what was she thinking cooking it until it had that awful army surplus green color? (you called it gray)...Anyway, it's a wonder that I am such a broccoli lover today and cook it for my family at practically every meal. My kids let me know when it is just a little too soft for their liking (if they only KNEW), because we all like it with that just-so crunch. Also, my nemesis as a kid was CANNED PEAS!!! Can you believe we were served those so often? (one of Dad's favorites supposedly). (When was the last time you bought a CAN OF PEAS!!!???) I would sit at that dining room table or carry them into the bathroom and flush them down the toilet. Or try and mix them with my mashed potatoes. Or the same as you, swallow them whole with a glass of milk (YUCK)....all of our family vegetable secrets are out now Kath. LOL.

8:41 AM  

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