By Guest Blogger, Bettina Berg
Living as we do, in a place and at a time where the push for farmer’s markets and locally produced, organic food and products is at an all-time high, I get a bit of a chuckle in thinking back to my childhood when frozen vegetables were all the rage. While not an important fact in general, for the purposes of this telling, it might help to know that I grew up in Central Ohio in the 60’s and 70’s. Despite being a fairly agricultural state, the part of Ohio that I called home was small town, suburban. Despite being female, the woman I called my mother was busy, not housebound. The combination was a perfect storm for the ad men of Madison Avenue and the Jolly Green Giant of Minnesota.
While I grew up loving spinach, green beans and squash, I did not know them as anything but frozen blocks in the freezer compartment of the Frigidaire. Their counterparts, peaches, pears and pineapple could be found in brightly colored cans on the bottom shelf of the lazy Susan in the corner of the kitchen. I did know about lettuce. It was called Iceberg and came in a tight, round, crunchy head that got chopped up into bits and was delicious with Kraft oil and vinegar dressing.
My friend Janet and her family vacationed in Canada in the summer, and Janet often spoke of asparagus as something that she relished during their time there. I wondered what it was and how it tasted. I was fairly sure I wouldn’t like it--you had to pick it, for heaven’s sake. Another friend Lila sang the praises of artichokes, a vegetable the likes of which I had never seen. When I visited her family in Boston, I begged off by saying that I didn’t care for them rather than admit my ignorance of how I would even begin to eat the spiny thing before me. When asked once to collect some watercress from a walk-in refrigerator, I stood and looked around taking stock of the things I didn’t recognize and returned to the kitchen with an eggplant.
So how does any of this connect to doing the work of hospice? To me, it is a reminder that we bring what we know to any given situation. It is easier to be tolerant of my missteps when I remember that my upbringing, my opportunities or lack of them, my culture and my beliefs all influence how I approach and understand a situation. It is a reminder that after eleven weeks of training and several years of volunteering, I cannot know what another person’s dying is to them. What I can bring now is curiosity (what does asparagus taste like?) and a willingness to ask for help and clarification (oh, you pick off the leaves of that thing?) in order to try to understand what someone may be saying to me. It is a reminder that I need to be forgiving of myself for not being knowledgeable about everything (so, I’ve heard of watercress, but I’m going to need a little bit more description here.) It is also a reminder that I may be able to offer another something that has been unknown to them because of their life’s path. By listening carefully, I hope to know whether it is eggplant or watercress that is being asked for.
So, summer appears to be here, and soon the local markets and farm stands will be rife with produce for our consumption. I plan to partake fully.