It was one of the odder things that I’ve eaten, and I’ve eaten some pretty strange foods over the years. Yesterday I stumbled across this new food at the grocery store; it was touted as a “new kind of breakfast cereal” and “gluten free” and “sugar free”. Right now, those are buzz words for me, so I bought it.
It’s a mixture of seeds (hemp seeds among them) that you mix with milk or water. The weird part is how little a serving is: only two tablespoons. Then you stir in four to five tablespoons of milk and wait for five minutes for the seeds to absorb the liquid. The package claimed that the food would expand up to sixteen times its size to be really filling, like a regular bowl of cereal would be. I envisioned the mixture exploding or at least expanding, much like bread dough does when it rises, and began dreaming up all the spiritual analogies that could be derived from this. I was disappointed, as the seed mixture stayed fairly compact; maybe they meant that it expands in your stomach or something.
Still, it wasn’t bad—not as bad as black coffee, my standard for food “badness”—especially once I added a dash of chocolate protein powder to the milky-and-seedy mix. (Chocolate makes almost everything better.)
I got on this health food kick a few months ago. I read a book on celiac disease, wondered if I had the disease, and went off all gluten. (Not an advisable move without a doctor’s approval, by the way; you should never self-diagnose.)
One of the good things about going off gluten was that I started examining the nutrition labels on everything. And I mean everything. Suddenly, I was learning that so many of the supposedly healthy things I ate were anything but healthy, not after all the sugar and salt and fat had been added. I was learning to watch out for sneaky gluten—the kind that hides under different names—and the even sneakier sugar and salt and fat, the kind that ups the food’s yummy factor but robs it of nutrients and robs me of the benefits of eating real food.
Through blood tests, I found out that I wasn’t celiac, so I didn’t have to ditch gluten. But my gluten-free experiment taught me a lot. About nutrition. About clean eating. About being aware of what I put in my body. About awareness, period.
So many times, I live in a state of distraction. I eat without thinking about what I’m eating; I live without thinking about what I’m doing or noticing the things that I need to notice. Like needy people.
This point came home to me a few years ago.
It was a typical Saturday morning at super Wal-Mart. I pushed my shopping cart through the aisles, my emotions near the breaking point as my then-six-week-old baby screamed and my preschooler whined. We’d completely run out of formula and the baby was hungry (hence the incessant crying) and my older daughter was tired (hence the whining) and I was sleep deprived, emotional and hating every moment spent grocery shopping among the throngs of equally-grumpy Saturday shoppers.
We turned on to the soft drink aisle. A worker was loading soft drinks onto the shelves. A family pushed their shopping cart by us. The mother caught a glimpse of my baby and the entire family—father, mother and children—had to stop and ooh and aww over her. She immediately calmed down, basking in the attention that diverted her from her rumbling tummy.
“How old is she?”
“Oh how precious. Look at those little toes. . . .”
The family moved on. The worker looked at my daughter as we passed him. “My wife and I had a two-week-old,” he said quietly. “She died a month ago.”
His last words were so low that I barely caught them. My stressed-out, tired mind didn’t comprehend at first; and while I saw the darkness on his face, it didn’t register with me. What did I do?
Silently, I walked on.
It didn’t sink into me what he had said until we were almost on the next aisle. He and his wife had a child that, had she lived, would’ve been the same age as my baby. I was so focused the immediate need of getting through the store, dealing with two children, making my way through crowded aisles, that I totally missed the important thing: here was a man in the throes of grief, needing comfort, a compassionate word, something. And I said nothing.
This is what happens when I allow myself to be chronically distracted by the immediate and, often, inconsequential. It’s a little like what happens when I eat highly processed foods; I forget what natural food tastes like, and I crave the fake over the real.
So, too, I can start to prefer this state of distraction. It’s more comfortable, because I don’t have to notice the discomforting realities of life. It’s more normal, because everyone else is distracted, too. But it’s not acceptable, because it’s not how I was meant to live.
Just like I’ve had to retrain my body not to crave artificially sweetened or overly sugared foods, so I need to retrain myself to pay attention to what matters, to not be so distracted by the immediate that I miss the important.