How to Be a Weather Girl
I can say with certainty that I wished I had my phone at the pot-luck dinner this weekend. But also, that I’m thankful I didn't. There were 16 of us, all from all over the world, and each of us got a dish that represented our culture. For me, that dish is Rajma, kidney beans in thick gravy, best had with a mound of steamed rice. I am guilty of repeating this recipe constantly. That’s because it’s fool-proof, giving, delicious, and reminds me of Sid’s beautiful mother.
She also makes a life-giving halwa — a sweet balmy porridge made from chickpea flour, ghee and sugar. I haven’t learnt that recipe though, because if I do, I would forgo the magical properties she dusts into it with her soft hands, the crinkle-eyed warmth of her smile, the feel she instinctively has for the ingredients or the emotional neediness of her children. She serves it in big bowls while Sid, his sister or me nurse small sicknesses that we exaggerate, just so she could coddle us with generous portions.
Yes, I briefly did wish I could fish out my phone to click pictures of the many dishes at the potluck this weekend— Deb brought salmon and red onion on Irish soda bread that she baked herself, criss-crossing grocery isles to find the right Irish brand of flour. Pip, Australian — got a jeweled wild rice, stained saffron and beaded with pomegranate seeds and the crescents of cashews. Anna got an egg stew to be had with caramelized plantains; a dish she ate regularly with her family in West Africa. Orlaith brought a quiche that she filled with the melted shavings of aged Parmesan, letter-pressed with cherry tomatoes and freckled with sage.
But perhaps if I did reach for the internet, I would not have noticed the music of Orlaith’s Irish accent or the details of her mossy dress and tights, or paid that close attention to her story about mispronounced Sri-Lankan names. I laughed a long, waterfall laugh that everybody else around the dinner table promptly caught. With a sharp stream of consciousnesses, it fell out of me smooth and uninterrupted.
For a while now, I have felt the weight of the constancy of information. Like I was accumulating everything I scrolled through or double clicked. I was beginning to notice how it slowed down my walk, weakened the strength of my conversations or the rest I found in my sleep. My fingertips felt cross with overuse. My vision felt blurry, I couldn't see the cloud or the waves too well, or taste with definition the splendour of my coffee. In a spontaneous decision that I’m sure I had been premeditating subconsciously, I unplugged my phone days before this potluck. Modestly, I said No.
You have to pay close attention to your internal climate, your peaks and storms, the gurgling streams in turmoil from foreign winds. You have to pay attention to your own weather, the blockages and the dips you cause with the daily living of your life, the silent tsunamis you neglectfully provoke. You have to be your own weather girl, because if you don’t, no one will. No one else can forecast the twitter of tidbits that replace your ancient instincts, the intelligence of your unique human code.
Late that Sunday, I took my bike out to the river. It’s the sweet beginning of Autumn here in the southern hemisphere, so I put on a jacket and laced up my shoes. Light on my bike, I flowed uninterrupted through the many paths, I marveled at the giant pelican that stood deep in thought next to a young fisherman. I dropped my jaw when I saw the sunset, my brain clear of any consumed imagery, still naive, besotted. There was a barefooted child doing back to back cartwheels on the river bed, mimicking the constant motion of someone’s hand sewing a hemline.
The patch of grass below the looming trees was a carpet of cockatoos. Like a fallen string of pearls, they were strewn all over, making loud proclamations of the end of today’s daylight. The view was very sharp, the sounds deep, stirring and engraved in my brain. Some of them, couples, pecked at each other necks, proceeding to roll around with each other, making babies. Some of them hung upside down like bats and looked at me upside down, mediatorsas I looked back, upside down myself. What was this world I have been shutting myself out of? Has it been this that I have been shunning, while I looked at the brightness of my many screens?
There are so many things that deserve my full attention, but instead, they get my fractured presence. I thought about chewing, slowly and enjoying each morsel without mentally calculating where I should be next. Sprawled on the grass beside the water, I thought about all the conversations that I can bring myself wholly to.
I thought of my new niece; of her round cheeks that feel like peaches and remind me of the springs of a new season. The utter delight she has for the juice of a small grape. How she makes small sounds while she holds on firmly to her tiny feet, flat on her back. How she is always planking, threatening to crawl with mischievous eyes. I think of the bottomless capacity of her focus, the strong curiosity she has about the edge of the bed.
How much are we missing out on?
I notice new rhythms to the familiar. How Sid can feel when he is happy, the real impact he has on me when he is saddened. How he walks in through the door, often with a ear worm that he’s singing out loud. How he steals the groundnuts soon after I've roasted them. I pay attention to the look he has when he is charmed or challenged, of the way he cuts his nails with regularity; after morning showers, silently, meditatively. How he looks at the side of his head in the mirror, quietly contemplating if it is time for his next haircut. How he habitually slides me to the inside of the streets we walk on.
How much are we refusing to see?
This weekend felt like it added years to my lifespan, lifetimes to fleeting moments. Being present is no longer a woo-woo concept that meditators preach about, it is real. And it is in real threat of impermanence, of slow heedless disappearance.
As I got back onto my bike, I was reminded of a quote from a little book that I was gifted by a dear friend. A book that I read far too late; but perhaps that’s because it was now that I was truly ready for it.
Here’s to presence.