It might not be quite up there with the first day of spring or grandchildren, but one of the undeniably wonderful gifts the Creator has bestowed on mankind is the ripe avocado.
The buttery consistency, the unique pastel coloration, and the divinely subtle taste all combine to make it truly a fruit to be thankful for. I have a few slices each morning, joined by lettuce and tomato on toast; a wondrous, nutritious and flavorful start to the day.
And most every time I open one of the fruits and gently rock the point of a sharp knife into its pit before easing it out, I think back at how clueless I was as a teenage yeshiva boy in Israel forty-odd years ago.
I had never eaten – or even seen – an avocado at that point. If supermarkets in my childhood’s Baltimore even stocked the fruit, my mother had never bought one. We did fine on Jewish food, the Eastern European kind, and had our share of American fare too. But exotic fruits weren’t part of my family’s culinary offerings.
Then, suddenly, in a new and very different clime, avocados were everywhere. I didn’t find much beyond tomatoes and falafel in the Israeli diet to sate me, and, skinny as I was to begin with (ah, the thin old days!), I lost weight during that first post-high-school year of study. Although the more cosmopolitan Americans in the Israeli yeshiva I attended, like the natives, devoured the avocados that were provided us each day, I took one look at the mushy, slimy, greenish stuff they spread on bread and my only reaction was pass the leben please.
Why am I sharing this? Stay with me, please.
I came to realize, only many years later, married and living in northern California, how wondrous avocados are (and, in the 1980s, they were four for a dollar at any roadside stand!). What a fool I had been, the smarter, older me realized, to have once shunned the wondrous food (not to mention to have gone so hungry for being so finicky).
Similarly, when later that decade my family and I moved to New England, I was chagrined to discover that homes in our Providence neighborhood had steam heat, with each room sporting a heavy iron radiator that I half-expected to one day explode. I had always associated such metal monstrosities with lower-class living, and modern life as a forced-air world.
It took only a short while (as I aged, apparently, my stubbornness waned) to appreciate the wonderful warmth – second only to a fireplace – that a steam heat radiator provided. The occasional spurts of steam humidifying the air, the place for the children to place their snow-drenched mittens (and all of us, assorted clothing, to become comfortably warm) to dry. A strange Shafran kids custom was placing Corn Chex on the radiator cover to “toast” them. Even the cacophonous clinging and clanging of the steam pipes became, to my ears, magnificent music, the notes signaling that the house would soon be cozily warm.
And so I arrive, at last, at my point, which is a simple one. What was true for me about avocados and radiators is likely true about many other things in all of our lives. Not just things, but people and places too. Instead of wasting precious moments – and sometimes years – grumbling to ourselves about what seems unpleasant, we do ourselves a great favor to wonder if the generators of the grumbles may in fact be blessings well-disguised. Considering that might just lead us to complain a little less and to, rightly, appreciate our here-and-now worlds a little more.
© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran