Picking blackberries: Tasting real life

Imagine tooling down a canyon road in an old convertible with friends, a trunk full of berry baskets and toe-tapping songs on the radio. The cool mountain air tousles your hair, the sun warms your limbs and thoughts of ripe blackberries tantalize your tongue. Your only challenging thought is how to resist eating more berries than you drop in your basket.

Life is like picking blackberries. It can be hot and thorny work. But the fruits of a day well lived are truly sweet as you put head to pillow, or the freshest of blackberry cobbler with ice cream to mouth.

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Big small talk

I’ve only been blackberry picking once. The old convertible was a cherry 1960 Studebaker Lark. I went with friends from a tiny Sierra Nevada town in Northern California. We picked and nibbled and dropped and talked about life. A friend’s mother shared about being a college student in the ‘60s—the incredible music, the allure of rebellious freedom, the pressure of Vietnam.

We talked about our plans. Her daughter was interested in grad school at Cambridge. Her son seemed to prefer the solitude of berry picking beyond the group, off the beaten path where the fruit is undisturbed and more plentiful.

The daughter’s friend had just quit her job as the personal assistant to a well-known, workaholic attorney who once helped expose a president who’d lied about tangling with an intern. I could tell she was loving the simple pleasures of sun, berries and good conversation—and the slow pace.

Real life

I found myself enjoying picking blackberries and listening as we learned more about one another. Standing there perfecting the art of berry picking (a gentle tug and twist), I looked at my stained fingers, tasted the sweet tinny taste of berry blood and smiled.

This was a taste of real life. It was an awakening after months of talking with friends about Dallas’ sports teams, watching The Office reruns, mowing my lawn and walking my dog and going to pool parties—all while settling for small talk instead of going deep to share who I really am.

picking blackberries
Credit: uber doofus studios, August 2010

I realized that anything that distracts from connecting with others—movie watching or small talk or any number of self-protective activities—lessens the likelihood of my inviting others to peer into my soul. Anything less is burning time—and opportunities to know and to be known.

I’m not saying that time spent enjoying the company of friends and family isn’t worthwhile. The laughter, the teasing, the shared interests and such are all good things, but if that’s all that happens between people, it’s not nearly enough. Not for me, anyway.

Be like the berry

Take a lesson from the sweet blackberries. Don’t live protectively, hidden and safe behind thorny barriers. If you do, you’ll grow tart and later shrivel into a hardened husk. By protecting yourself from the bruising forces of life, you’ll miss the joy of being selected and enjoyed and appreciated. And, most tragically, you’ll deprive others of the sweetness of your soul.

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