Time’s funny. You know?
Yes, I’m aware that’s hardly a profound sentence for how many times it has been uttered. But sometimes words fail to describe the absurd rubber-band and snap back with a boing in the eye and where the heck has all that time gone when it feels like just three minutes ago way that time shifts in and out of life.
Nearly the first photograph I ever posted on flickr was one of lemons, lined up on the kitchen windowsill, on a grey spring day. April 21, 2005. I had a tiny Nikon camera, a point and shoot no bigger than the palm of my hand. For months on end, I had been feeling sluggish, sometimes terrible, all the time confused as to why I felt 80 years old and perpetually on the couch. When the calendar slowly shifted and one more month’s page shrugged off to the floor, I looked up to realize I had missed the coming of spring in between doctor’s appointments and sleeping under heavy quilts. Exhausted and in pain, I forced myself to walk out my door and take photographs of what I saw around me. Tulips in bloom, rocks piled placidly, small green plants at the roots of a large tree — they captured me, in those three blocks of walking. Alone, feeling more alone than I had in years, I returned home and found three lemons on the countertop. I saw them, as beauty, as the same objects of affection I had been regarding with quiet eyes outside. I snapped the shot.
That’s one of the reasons I started taking photographs of my food, that shot. Nine days later, I stopped eating gluten. A week after that, I had my official diagnosis. A month after that, I started this blog. A month after that, one of the administrators of the school where I taught at the time asked me to stop publishing a personal blog I kept for my friends, because I had inadvertently used the full name of a student there, who googled himself, found it, and read about my life. Tame, let me tell you. Nothing salacious there. But parents complained — apparently because I had not written in praise about their students — and there I was in an administrator’s office, being chastised. So I decided, that day — why don’t I give my full writing energies this summer to writing about living gluten-free? No one will pay attention to that, probably.
“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”
I remember hearing this song on one of the Peter, Paul, and Mary albums my father owned. Lovely song, but it puzzled me even then. Lemons aren’t impossible to eat. They’re just tart, and mouth-puckering. Not what we expected.
At the time I took that first lemon photograph, I would have given anything to leave it. Alone, eyes-hang-dog-sick, no answer to the medical mystery in sight, depressed, teaching when I wanted to write full time, too tired to do anything I dreamed — that was one sour time. But I wouldn’t trade it now for anything. If I hadn’t lived through that acidic era, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be the person I am without those lemons.
Why do we run away from the sharp acid times when they make us who we are? Why don’t we embrace them, welcome them in, and say, “Oh thank goodness you’re here. Without you, where would be the zest?”
I have to remind myself of this all the time. When I took the photograph of lemons above, waiting to be preserved, life felt acetic again. My mother was awaiting surgery for breast cancer. I sat in front of the computer, nine hours a day, doing work I love, but too much in the face of it all. Stress and aches and a familiar feeling of being unwell crept along my bones. All I wanted was to be sitting here a month later, eating those preserved lemons, in hummus or pasta with olives, knowing it was all over.
But in the moment, I wished away an early January with my husband, the one who preserved the lemons for us, and our daughter, who grows so much each day I feel like I blink and I miss it. I itched for inches of my life to disappear. What was I thinking?
But right now, in the middle of winter, I’m trying to remind myself to suck on the lemons instead.
And you? What do you like to do with lemons?