I'll Cook the Food, You Save the World
One afternoon last summer I was sitting at the kitchen table processing a bushel of tomatoes while Emily sat across from me reading Charlie Wilson's War. It was as hot and sticky as one would expect from August in southern New England; a time of year when I’m best known for laying low during the heat of the day, keeping only my hands busy while the remainder of my wilted self rests in the curtain-drawn darkness of our south facing home. I dislike closing curtains, but my mother insists that closing them cools the house considerably on hot days, and you know how moms are always right.
Without invitation, I began explaining all things tomato to my lucky audience. How to grow them, varieties we like, methods of processing and preservation. I must have held at least half her attention because she put her book down and said to me, “I really wish I was interested in this sort of thing, but I’m just not. And that’s kind of sad because I appreciate the importance of these skills, and I’m sure someday I’ll want to know how to do these things, but right now, I really have no interest.” There was a slight sadness to the moment, not felt by a mother who wished her child capable beyond the realm of reciting the complete works of Kurt Vonnegut, but by a woman who knows the value of laborous day to day work, yet leans in the sophisticated direction of academia. A woman reconciling the thought that although she’d prefer to spend her time surrounded by stacks of Russian poetry, at the end of the day, dinner still needs cooking. “It’s okay,” I told her. “When you decide to grow a garden and do some of these things for yourself, just call me and I’ll walk you through it.” She was genuinely satisfied with my response. Maybe even relieved to know that it was in fact okay, she could still learn these things down the road.
My daughter has started a new job teaching debate, public speaking, and oral advocacy in a women’s prison. The program is intended to provide effective listening and communication skills to a population that, beyond incarceration specifics, has largely led difficult, impoverished, marginalized lives. In many cases, a lack of the very skills she’ll be teaching contributed to their current arrangement. Someday these women will leave prison, and the goal is to not return. It is proven that for people with an ability to speak carefully and effectively, listen thoroughly, and advocate fiercely, the rate of recidivism is significantly decreased. This program is the perfect fit for the unique abilities that Emily has (proving there really is something for everyone), and I’m just feeling proud to see her emerge as an adult in this way.
On the phone this weekend, listening to her describe the first days of training and orientation, I could only think of this: Don’t worry about those tomatoes, kid, you already have one heck of a skill set. Providing people with tools to effectively listen and communicate is an incredible contribution. Some would argue that we need these skills today more than ever. So how about this: I‘ll grow the tomatoes and cook the food, you go ahead and save the world. Dinner is at six... don’t be late.