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A Lesson in Timing: ripe for the picking

A: Knock, knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Interrupting cow
B: Interrupting c---
A: Moooooooooo!

Timing is tricky. In comedy. In music. In cooking. In relationships. In life. Sometimes it is hard to know when the time is right for action and when it is better to wait. Let's ask the tomatoes for wisdom.

I am not the world's greatest gardener by any means, but I have grown quite a few things in my day; when I was a child on the farm, my mother had the generous foresight to assign me two rows in her garden every year to plant whatever my little heart desired. So I grew the things I loved: corn, peas, watermelon, and one year, a whole row of bright red poppies.

Now that I live in an urban setting, I grow things in pots on my balcony. This year I planted Sweet 'n' Neat Cherry tomatoes. The plant is doing better than I anticipated: very early it started to produce bunches of little green balls. Each day I go out, water it, and check for ripe fruit. Just because a tomato is red doesn't mean it is ripe. The test I use to check if fruit is ready to pick is this: I gently cup it in my hand and move it back and forth a bit; if it freely drops off the stem, it is ripe. If there is some resistance, I leave it for another day.

I think the tomatoes tell us something important about timing. If we are looking for the juiciest and sweetest fruit, it is best to wait till it is ripe. If you have ever tasted a tomato ripened on the vine and then a tomato ripened on the truck or in the store, you will know that the difference in taste is significant. I find that the same often goes for life. If we believe the time is right for something, we can put our hand to it, give it a gentle nudge. If it surrenders to us, it is ready. If there is resistance, perhaps we should let it be for a bit longer.

I am not talking about circumstances aligning perfectly in life (they seldom do) but more about maturity and surrender, both on the part of the fruit and on the part of the harvester. I have tried to force many things (picked fruit before it was ripe, went ahead with a plan before people were ready, rushed unprepared into a situation because it felt urgent, tried to bring correction into a fragile friendship, etc.). It made for a bumpy ride; sometimes things worked out after a bit of adjustment, other times it was a pretty big mess. I have learned that some of the things I think are urgent are just expressions of my impatience or misplaced passion. I have learned that it is usually better to wait a bit and go together than to forge ahead early and alone. I have learned that focusing on solid foundations and shared values is important, and that including people in the process of change builds a much healthier community than racing ahead with new ideas. I have learned that until I learn the art of surrender, I cannot expect it from anyone else.

When fruit is ripe, it surrenders. This surrender is part of the natural process of growth, maturity, and change. What am I ready to surrender to? What is ready to surrender its fruit in my life?

My tomato plant this morning


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