Tuesday, November 14, 2023
A couple of days ago I was thinking about my Uncle Arthur. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but I was probably ensconced in the whirlwind of chaos that follows me around like Pigpen’s cloud.
I was thinking about how he always did things so deliberately. Patiently. Methodically. I don’t ever remember that man hurrying.
My Aunt Rosie bustled. I wouldn’t call it hurrying, exactly, but she moved with a purpose. He did too, but it was a different kind of purpose. His purpose was to do the thing. Her purpose was to get the thing done.
I can remember him washing dishes. Forever. One plate at a time. He never washed dishes like he was trying to finish washing dishes. Only like that’s what he was doing. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I can remember him laying out Solitaire cards. One card at a time. He never laid the cards out like he was playing Solitaire but like he was just laying cards out to watch them sprawl across the table, each one making a tiny slap as he placed it down and let go of the last corner.
He never hurried. I never heard a huff or a sigh no matter how quickly he lost and then had to scoop up all the cards and start over.
I can remember him coming home from work. Us kids would be playing like lunatics out in the driveway and he would have gotten off the train and come walking up the block. You could recognize him by his hat long before you saw his face, and by the way he walked, one step at a time. Not like he was trying to get home to dinner but like he had nothing else in the world to do but walk. We sometimes went running down the block to meet him but he never changed his pace. Just walked and smiled.
I don’t remember exactly what triggered these memories but I reflected on them for a while and thought about this smiling, hurry-less man who once drank champagne out of my shoe on a particularly drunken New Year’s Eve. I thought about his calming presence and decided to do a little experiment today.
I decided to ask myself, as I whirled and winded through the day, WWUAD?
As much as was humanly possible I tried to do the thing. I made tea, and when I found myself scuttling around like a deranged hermit crab, I stopped and did the thing.
When I realized I was bustling back and forth to clear the lunch dishes from the table, witnessed by the fact that a fork flew off onto the floor, I took a pause and put my brain in Uncle Arthur mode. And just did the thing.
Not to get to the next thing. Not even to get the thing done. Just to do it.
It’s quite a bit harder than one might think. Everything I do seems like a catalyst for something else. Got to get the tea made so I can sit down and get the work done so I can cook the dinner so I can sit in my crater on the couch.
Just doing the thing, not as a precursor, not as a requirement to the next step, is a very Zen practice. I’m terrible at it. But it’s quite a bit less stressful, I’ll tell you that much.
Ice not coming out of the machine? WWUAD? Certainly not open the freezer and punch the dispenser a few times to loosen the ice then slam the door for good measure. He would wait. And if waiting for the ice to eke out didn’t work, he’d open the freezer and deliberately, methodically, pull out the dispenser. He’d probably loosen the cubes one at a time and then carefully, methodically put it back.
I can imagine him filling up the water bottle. Patiently. Methodically. As if the only thing he had to do, would ever have to do, was fill the water bottle. He most certainly wouldn’t have jammed the lid down repeatedly when the ice wouldn’t let it close.
I would like to live in that zone. Less harried. Less worried about what’s next.
Ralph makes fun of me because every time I leave a store I look like a circus juggler. Purse wedged under my arm, wallet in one hand, credit card and receipt in the other, bags hanging anywhere they can hang. God forbid I have gloves or a hat to deal with.
He wants to know why I don’t just put things away before walking out. But he doesn’t understand that I have to get to the next thing. And I have to move out of the way so other people can get to their next thing. The anxiety of standing there putting my credit card in my wallet and putting my wallet in my purse and putting my purse on my arm and my hat on my head is just way too much for me. I’ll just throw it all in the car and fix it later.
Would I really disrupt the pattern of the universe if I took an extra fifteen seconds to compose myself after a shopping trip? I feel like the people behind me could cope with this shift in the timeline. God knows I do, every time the person in front of me waits for their entire order to be rung up before so much as opening their purse.
So today I took the time to do what I was doing and to be deliberate about it. To be Uncle Arthur about it. Not sure it will be a lasting success but it did give me a few moments to think about what I was doing, not what I was going to be doing.
I took a minute to just cut my pear. I took a minute to just eat my pear. I took a minute to just wash the knife I’d cut it with.
I tried to remember whether Uncle Arthur ever did anything loudly or forcefully and couldn’t come up with anything. He was a deliberate person, as if every moment was the only moment, and had to be tended to with the utmost care.
And then I remembered the sneezing.
He’d gear up and then ACHOO it out like all the chaos and whirlwinds of the universe had been backing up and just waiting to be expelled in a single fury. You could hear him right through the floor from a story below. But then, I suppose it was a very UA thing to do, that sneezing. Very specific, very deliberate, as if the only thing he had to do was sneeze.
God bless you, Uncle Arthur.
Photo: Good old Unca and Aunt Rosie. Always smiling.