Guest Post by Anna Bonnema
Today, while walking at a hurried pace, a man in front of me paused, turned around, and with kind eyes and a smile asked, “What are you looking for?” He apologized for seeming to interrupt me, but my rushed clip, and when he turned, my darting eyes reminded him of the squirrels he could see from his window-frantically digging tiny holes under the giant pines looking for the acorns that would sustain them.
My initial surprise at the question turned to warmth and I answered honestly that I was tired, and looking for a place to rest. His eyes lit up, and he explained that he was a teacher nearby so he knew the neighborhood well. He said, “You just have to come and see this wonderful place.”
While it is not my habit to follow strangers, this delightful soul made it nearly impossible to refuse. We began walking side by side-much slower than I was accustom to walking. I found my breathing slowing down and my shoulders relaxing. He seemed to be able to sense however that I was still slightly uncomfortable with the slower pace. “Everyone is in such a hurry these days,” he said. “Rushing to squeeze in just one more thing, it makes me wonder if anyone truly notices anything anymore?”
I began to think about how true this statement was. Not only did the hurried pace so valued by our society wear me down, it also functioned as horse blinders. In all the rushing, I so rarely paused to take in a sight, or a smell, or to touch or even on occasion to savor a taste. As we rounded the next corner, at this newly slowed pace, an amazing aroma seemed to envelop me in a warm embrace. It was a cocoon of sugar and yeast like no other.
At that moment, I noticed the small bakery and café just ahead. It appeared to have been a home in a previous life. A long roughly painted porch wrapped around the front, scattered with rocking chairs and porch swings. We entered through a wooded screen door which I paused to appreciate as it slammed gently shut. That sound transported me back to a childhood of games, sand, and cups made of tin with a little sand in the bottom from the well-my grandparents’ cottage.
Once my eyes adjusted from being outside, I saw that this bakery retained much of the charm from it’s days as a home. Cozy sitting areas with oversized chairs seemed to open their arms to the guests. We followed the scents as they got stronger the closer we got to the kitchen. This space was clearly, and must always have been the heart of the home.
A woman was kneading bread on a large marble island. A series of glass fronted cabinets displayed a variety of that day’s specials. We talked to the baker about the seasonal and local ingredients she gently folded in to her delicate creations. Today she featured apple bread, pumpkin spice cakes and maple scones.
She explained the relationships she had formed over time with the farmers. It was a slow process, but one that has yielded so many delicious creations. We each selected a treat, and checking my watch, I asked for mine to go. The kind man, and the baker gently told me that the special confections were best eaten right here in this house. I conceded, knowing here would be things I would not get done today because of this delay-but I sensed that it would be ok.
I watched as she tenderly removed our selections and placed them each on a mismatched plate-mine with a tiny chip out of the side. She handed us each a fork that closely resembled the silver of my grandma that I store under the bed. We added mugs of warm chai cider and found two velvet chairs in front of the homes’ wood burning fireplace. The taste of the spices and local fruit in the apple bread was sublime. Each bite I seemed to sink deeper into the chair. The warmth from the cider, the flavors and the fire lulled my body in to a state of relaxation I had not ever known.
The company of the kind man with a very easy laugh nourished a hunger I had not known existed. I gazed around the room and noticed how the fire cast shadows that seemed to dance around. I took in the sounds of baking coming from the kitchen-clanging of metal measuring spoons, clanks of baking pans being removed from the oven.
As we ate the remaining crumbs from our plates and tipped the mugs back to savor the last drops of cider I thanked the kind man. I let him know how refreshed I felt, how nourished. I even wished out loud that I could spend a few hours each day in this very spot. He laughed softly and said, “balance, it’s about finding balance, a pace that nourishes your soul while still allowing you to accomplish the important things in your life.”
He went on to talk about how finding this balance will not allow me to say yes to everything or to do all of the things I am doing now. “It’s not easy, but think of how attentive this slow time allowed you to be. Think of all you delighted in.”
As I reflected on this time, I noticed the sky changing, singling the coming of evening. The entire afternoon had passed. We walked out of the café together and as we prepared to part ways at the end of the walk, I asked the kind man his name. How had the ours gone without me knowing this vital information. As he opened his mouth to speak, a car roared past and the word was swallowed by the sound. As I began walking home, much slower, I could have sworn he said his name was Jesus.