Slow Goings

The strawberry patch we planted in the spring has grown green and lush.  Once the night temperatures fall to a regular four degrees Celcius, we’ll tuck every row under a straw blanket where they’ll convalesce until spring.  In April, they’ll throw off the covers, raring to grow their first crop of luscious red strawberries.

strawberry imageIt’s a happy thought for me now but when I was a kid, the prospect of all those berries would have filled me with anxiety.  When you’re an Old Colony Mennonite kid whose family depends largely on the agricultural harvest to make a living, there is one standard by which to measure your value as a worker: speed.  That’s it.  Intellect and creativity fall under the tomato truck; what matters is how fast you can pick a flat of strawberries or fill a hamper of cucumbers or a bin of apples.  Some parents employ dubious tactics to spur their kids on to even greater speeds.   My friends’ Dad used to promise his children that the earnings from every flat of strawberries they filled after the tenth one were theirs to keep.  He knew they weren’t capable of filling more than eleven before the field was picked clean around noon but he also knew they would bust their little hineys in hopes of big money every time.

I fared about as well as a dachshund at a greyhound derby in this environment.  By the time I picked four flats, the kid in the daschundnext row had picked six or seven.  When I filled one hamper of cucumbers, the kid next to me was toting three full hampers to the back of the machine to make room for empties.  I hated being slow but no matter how I willed my fingers to pick faster, I always fell behind.

There’s a Low German word for people like me: “langsomje”, pronounced long-some-yə, which means “slow one”.  It indicates someone who is slow to complete physical tasks, not someone with a mental disability as the term might be interpreted in English, but they suffer a lot of the same prejudice in their respective worlds.  No one wants the langsomje on their cucumber machine.

It wasn’t until I grew older that I understood that being fast wasn’t the most important part of every job.  God began to show me this through things I love to do.

Who would want to read an author who chose random words and ditched any effort at pleasing composition because her highest literary aspiration was to exceed her word count from the day before?

Or who would trust a translator who delivered the sentence, “The minister ruled against her but she pressed her case all the way to the Federal Court of Appeals” into the target language as, “She lost the case but she fought all the way to the top” because he earned his living by piece work and hey, at least his client was getting the gist of the story.

Translating the example above into something that non-English speaking Mennonites can make sense of is a fiddly business, by the way.  We’re not inclined to appeal much of anything.  We pack our things and move to a country where they let us do whatever we want.  But I digress.

The tasks above call for such unhurried behaviour as staring into space while I contemplate the effect of a single word on a wholestack of books paragraph.  They necessitate rummaging through dictionaries and thesauruses for the perfect word then repeating this action a hundred times for one document.  They require me to scour the cupboard furiously for a piece of chocolate when the perfect word goes AWOL, then rewrite entire passages when it turns up.  They make me walk past the washing machine with an armload of dirty socks and dump it into the deep freeze when the best story idea ever temporarily shorts out every other thought in my brain.

Happily, I have these character traits in abundance.  I can make anything take longer than it needs to.  Because God never created me to reign as queen of the 8-second pickle hamper and knowing this frees me to be kinder to myself.  I wouldn’t call myself a dachshund anymore but I’m still no greyhound… an arthritic beagle maybe…but I no longer see this as a birth defect.  I’ll be your langsomje, anywhere you need one.  Just leave me plenty of time to get there.

beagle

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