Friday, October 07, 2016

The Intimacy Of Doing

I usually bag my own groceries at the supermarket.  I like to make efficiency games of routine activities and bagging groceries is a classic example. As I line up my purchases on the conveyor band, I start with the things I want at the bottom of the bag and end with the eggs and bread. Not only that but I make sure the bar codes are visible so that even the cashier becomes a part of my efficiency game. This isn’t something I’ve ever talked about; I just do it for fun.

Several years back, one of the cashiers at my regular store caught onto my game and played with me. She was the fastest cashier in the store. I queued up in her line even if it was the longest. We hardly spoke beyond the standard check out line Q & A. I knew her name was Joan because she wore a nametag. I’m a smiler, she was not. I’m a chatter, she was not. But on the issue of check-out line efficiency, we seemed to share a brain.

At one level it was a race and we both knew it. To keep it fair, she always waited, unsmiling, adjusting her wrist braces (yes, she took her job seriously), until the prior customer cleared the counter. But the moment I stepped into that spot, it was on. Since the heaviest items tend to be easily scanned things in jars, cans and bottles, the opening of the game was a flurry of hands, where I struggled to keep up, but as she got to the “hard” produce, like melons, root vegetables, and apples, she was forced to slow down slightly to weigh and type in codes. That gave me just the opportunity I needed to swipe my debit card and begin punching buttons. When it was a multi-bag shopping trip, she gained on me during the change-overs, but I knew the “soft” produce, like bananas, peaches, and grapes would give me the breathing room to catch up.

Sometimes my game with Joan was perfection: we finished simultaneously. One time, I couldn’t help myself, breaking our unofficial protocol to speak, “What a team!”

She answered, “That was fun.” And as we looked into one another’s faces I saw the corner of her mouth twitch, which I take as her version of a smile.

I once got into a similar unspoken flow with a man named Dave, who I had just met the day before. We were unloading logs from a pick up truck and tossing them into the cellar of a cabin via the old coal shoot. Dave and I positioned ourselves on either side of the tailgate, taking turns flinging our logs as deeply into the dark hole as we could. We started off joking around, but before long we were in a rapid-fire rhythm, boom-boom-boom-boom, punctuated by grunts and sweat. I entirely lost myself in our game. My whole world for those 20 minutes was firing logs as accurately as I could, while making sure to stay in time with Dave, or we would have otherwise been flinging logs into the backs of one another’s heads. We didn’t speak about the game, but we took up the same positions with each subsequent pick-up load, and found that same cooperative rhythm.

When we were done for the day, Dave said to me, “That was intense.”

And I echoed Joan’s line, “That was fun.”

These are the moments I feel most alive; these times when I find myself wholly attuned to another person, and they’re wholly attuned to me. There’s an intimacy in those moments that can never be achieved through words. I’ve often found those moments playing on team sports, dancing, doing physical labor, making love, and occasionally while creating communal art. It’s the intimacy of doing.

I teach at a cooperative preschool because of those moments. There is a beautiful, nearly wordless rhythm that emerges among the children and adults on our good days. The work of running our classroom flows like a dance or a song. It happens when we can all manage for a few hours to set aside our stresses and concerns, get down on our knees, and pour everything we are into the children. We don't always get there, but when we do, even if only for a few minutes, it's everything.

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