I love book learning.
Reading, taking notes, reading some more: I could do this for days.
It’s so tidy. It’s so neat. Everything is contained there, on the page, black type on crisp white pages.
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When there are confusing bits, you sit and puzzle over them. You reread. It’s not messy, it’s not a catastrophe, it’s just… words. Beautiful, glorious words.
I could learn anything from a book.
But life wants to be lived, not only read.
I read, for example, in Shauna Niequist’s book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table With Recipes, that when using a garlic press, you do not have to peel the garlic.
I have used a garlic press every day for the last fifteen years, and I had no idea.
But life wants to be lived, so I marched into my kitchen and I rummaged through a drawer for the garlic press. I grabbed a clove of garlic off the counter and announced that I no longer needed to peel garlic, oh no, I was going to try a new thing!
I splashed a bit of olive oil into a pan, slapped that garlic into the press, and I squeezed.
But either my garlic paper was made of titanium, or my garlic press was sad and frail, because when I squeezed, the garlic did not press out through the holes like play-dough in a squeeze factory.
No, the garlic had a different plan.
The garlic SQUIRTED RIGHT OUT THE BACK OF THE PRESS AND INTO MY EYEBALLS.
Another thing about which I had no idea: when there is garlic juice in your eyes (and in your hair and on your face and also on your shirt, but who really cares about the shirt at this point), you will want to scream, but will have to suffice with a startled YELP so as not to terrify the children.
I tried to tell myself to think of the burning pain as great news! Because garlic kills germs, so now I have DISINFECTED EYEBALLS. But mostly all I could think was I’M BLIND I’M BLIND I HAVE BLINDED MYSELF WITH GARLIC.
(It was a temporary problem.)
This is why I should stick to theoretical, on-the-page learning. You can’t injure yourself reading.
And yet… some things you have to learn by doing.
(I am considering installing one of those high school chemistry lab eye wash stations in our kitchen.)
How to use the garlic press: learn by reading.
How to leap to the sink and madly wash out your eyes, while trying not to drip mascara onto the already-scrubbed potatoes: learn by doing.
We can learn the what by reading, and the how by doing. Other times we learn the how by reading, and the why it matters by doing.
But we really do need them both.
How to cook the quinoa: learn by reading.
How it feels to sit around the table, watching as the children are nourished, seeing how they grow from our meals together: learn by doing.
What to serve a crowd of friends for dinner: learn by reading.
How to take a gathering of people and turn it into a come-as-you-are, be-all-here, love-and-be-loved community: learn by doing.
How to be the parent (as in, the person who changes diapers and nurses babies and sends everyone out for sunlight and fresh air): learn by reading.
How to be the parent (as in, the person who is there for kissing bruised shins and soothing bruised hearts, for listening to stories and listening for hurts and for hopes, who makes decisions and provides direction and influences wisely): learn by doing. And doing. And doing.
How someone else moves through the world with purpose and intention and calling: learn by reading.
How I move through the world: learn by… I’m still working this one out.
I guess that means doing.
And much as I wish I had a manual to teach me every good thing to do and be and know, so I would make every right decision the first time — or maybe so I could avoid making decisions at all — it doesn’t work that way. Life wants to be lived. We can read principles and ideas and instructions, but then we have to go and use them and see what happens next.
What happens next is that I learn and grow and change, and so do you, the words and the living weaving together to teach us all kinds of lessons.
And some of us will grow into the kind of people who look at doing and say: It’s hard, but we can do hard things.
And others of us (me) will look at doing and say: May I have my book back, please?
(That’s a fine place to start.)
Doing is messy. It’s noisy. It’s unpredictable.
It’s saying the wrong thing, it’s burning the dinner, it’s overwatering the plants, it’s taking the wrong job (or the right one), it’s garlic in the eyes and mud tracked in on the floor. And yet. Life wants to be lived. There isn’t another way, not really.
So that’s what I am up to over here: being the kind of person who learns by reading AND by squirting garlic in her eyeballs, for the rest of… always. The rest of always. Every day. I will be messy and fragrant and trying.
I will be learning.
I will be living.
I will be covered in garlic. Come on over. Dinner’s at six.