“Is this parsley, or cilantro?”
I looked over my reading glasses into the face of the young, red-haired, fresh-faced supermarket checker, as I rummaged in my purse to pull out my wallet.
“That is cilantro,” I said. Just the mention of cilantro transported me momentarily into the future, to that evening’s planned simple dinner, when that fresh cilantro would garnish our tasty tacos. I must have sounded a little dreamy.
“Thanks, I never can tell them apart.”
This was a bit of a tense moment for me. Are we having an actual conversation about food? Or is she just making a courteous response? I couldn’t quite tell, so social me put a tentative foot forward.
“That’s okay. Your customers can keep you straight. They’ll always know what they are buying.” And I thought to myself, “She has already rung up the taco shells, the onions, the tomatoes, and the margarita mix — those are some pretty good clues that it’s probably cilantro, right?” But I know I’m a little weird — seeing patterns and associations where there may be none. She was focused on one item at a time, if she was focused at all.
She looked surprised, as if she had just caught her breath. Not at the information, but perhaps that someone was actually addressing her — engaging her. She continued to move my items over the scanner as she looked up at me.
For some reason, the eye contact cued me that we WERE having a conversation. I continued. “And, next time you look at them side by side, you’ll see that the cilantro leaves are rufflier, and the Italian, flat leaf parsley leaves are flat, and pointy.” Yes, I am a compulsive, 24-hour-a-day, teacher. I paused a moment, weighing whether I should go into the regular, curly leaf parsley. Too much? Perhaps. Better just stick to two items to compare and contrast. . .
Now she just looked shocked. But I was on a roll. “And then, you can smell them. Parsley smells green, and just really fresh, while cilantro smells peppery.”
“I had no idea.”
Now I was a little embarrassed. Is that the “This lady is nuts?” look? Well, Lord knows I’ve endured that one before. We completed our transaction, and I got to thinking on my way to the car.
My work as a Feldenkrais teacher is, in large part, about helping people learn to make distinctions in their own lives, their own subjective experience, their own quality of movement and motivation. Making comparisons and distinctions is almost always an exploratory and experimental process. I laughed to myself that I was unable to differentiate between “polite conversation” and “engaged conversation,” judging by my own left-over feelings of slight inappropriateness in my behavior, confirmed by the checker’s quizzical facial expressions. However, I then thought — no, that was an exploration. A pleasant experiment. I also noted that eternal truth that you can’t make assumptions about people. Just because she works with food every day, doesn’t mean that she knows anything about it, or is interested in it. As strange as that seems to me, it helps me understand how the dear supermarket checker found me to be strange as well.
People often tell me that I am outgoing and extroverted, and perhaps that is true. I think more importantly, I am just resilient. (Perhaps that’s a topic for another day: Does being outgoing make you resilient, or does being resilient make you outgoing?) I have always been able to pick myself up, after failures big and small, and go on to try again. I like to think that the Feldenkrais Method can help people to develop this resilience, in movement and in their larger lives. We do it in a series of gentle, easy, no-failure experiments where, if things don’t work out as you planned in any given moment, you can always try again, refine your approach, and start again.