I sat across from a row of kindergarten boys in the lunchroom today. They came skidding in along the linoleum and then went piling onto bench seats. I watched as they popped open lunch boxes. All of them waved but they didn’t want to talk. Time to eat!
I knew most of their names as they were already becoming regulars in the front office. For example, shaved-head Henry who brought lunch in a drawstring bag. He dumped everything out: Apple slices, cheese wedges and salami. And the quiet boy, Gordon, who pried back the lid of a long plastic container to get at nine sushi-styled rice blocks, each topped in a dash of green and red.
But my eyes landed on Wyman, a square-jawed five year-old, who sat still without a trace of a smile. He focused on his red lunch sack from which he pulled two plastic tubs, one containing a quartered sandwich, and a another that held a bunch of shiny, plump grapes, still on stem.
What I noticed was the precision in his movements: slow centering of tub to its rightful place in front of his scrunched face. He used a two-fingered technique for pulling off the lid. Stop, study, adjust, tug.
So what next?
From the way Wyman scanned the tub’s contents, I knew he sought a particular grape in mind. Spotting it, he plucked his prize, held it between thumb and forefinger, extended his arm away from his face and then brought the shiny morsel in for a landing on the cradle of his extended tongue. His lips closed like doors to a vault.
We both waited.
Wyman took one more pause. Then came the crush. His eyes rolled back. I could tell when he chomped down because his mouth twisted and his shoulders shuddered. I got to watch an entire being come to terms with a small explosion of juice and pulp. And throughout, he kept his mouth closed, remaining immersed in this moment, giving over to sweet sensation. He and the grape became one.
Believe me when I tell you this:
Long ago, above and below were joined. Then, the minds of men began to assign names to all things. As their strength grew, they ranked circumstances and dismissed entire days as if they were non-essential. Very little of the essence of things survived. Tangible and intangible became divided into parts. We lost much when this change came on us.
But today, juice rolling over the tongue sliding down the throat – such a splendid event had to be taken whole- as it was for Wyman whose every cell became one with the grape. No quibbling about what to call what. Just the primacy of singular experience and an unimpeded encounter with ineffable wholeness.
Children remind me that the points between the named things are the ones I must not forget. That’s the prize. To catch these moments when they come along, cradle them on the tongue, slow way, way down, and let them enter in their inexplicable, overwhelming totality. Wisdom must come through the absence of an explanation.
Be still, says Thích Nhất Hạnh, and know – Like children who can bring us back home, and can also in their effortless ways, return us to the point of contact – where above and below have a chance to become one once again.