On being ... expressive

By Ingrid Sapona

Some people are natural huggers – I’m not. I wish I were because it’s such a simple gesture and yet it reinforces the human connection that I think we all crave. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried harder to hug more – and to be more huggable. Funny thing is, most of my friends are not natural huggers either, so I’m not in too many situations where I can practice. 

My accountant is a natural hugger, as is her whole family. One of the things I love about natural huggers is that they don’t even seem to realize that some of us aren’t natural huggers. As a result, natural huggers don’t hesitate at all. As they head toward you, their arms just naturally spread and as soon as you’re within reach, they clamp their arms around you in a warm embrace.

Non-natural huggers who are making an effort to hug are completely different. They open their arms from a standing still position. This results in awkward, bend-forward-at-the-waist, clasps. (Just picture fourth graders dancing – you know – it always looks like there’s an invisible football wedged between their pelvises.)

Anyway, despite what I may look like, I’m determined to keep trying to become a more natural hugger. I figure human contact is something we can all use more of. (All you non-huggers in my life – and you know who you are – don’t worry. If you want to work on the hugging thing with me, great. If not, I’ll settle for a hearty handshake.)

Between Christmas and New Year’s my sister and I were in Buffalo with Mom. While there, we stopped in to say hello to Tina at her family’s restaurant. Tina (not her real name, of course!) and her husband took over the restaurant from her father, who was a contemporary and friend of my father. Their place reminds me of the restaurant my dad used to own.

I don’t know Tina that well, but I’ve always liked her. Though we’re about the same age, we lived in different school districts and our social circles didn’t overlap. Our paths crossed mainly at church, where our interactions were limited to the usual small talk. Even so, I’ve always felt an affinity toward her and she is one of the few people I’ve kept in touch with from that church.

I wouldn’t describe Tina as outgoing, and I’ll bet she doesn’t think of herself that way. Instead, I see her more like a magnet, drawing people to her with her natural beauty and the sheer warmth of her smile. She also has a way of looking at you while you talk that makes you feel that what you’re saying is inherently interesting to her.

I was reminded of all these things when we dropped in on her in December. But in chatting with her, I was also reminded of another quality of hers that I especially admire: she goes out of her way to say something nice about people and things. In a world where it sometimes feels that you're lucky if you're around people who live by the adage about not saying anything if they don’t have something nice to say, Tina’s words are more than refreshing.  

I first noticed this about her years ago in the things she wrote in a condolence card she sent when my father died. I was moved by both her words and her thoughtfulness. I’ve since noticed it in even the simplest e-mails she dashes off. Mind you, it’s not even the particular words she uses – it’s the fact that she seems to go out of her way to find something nice to say and then she follows through by saying it, rather than merely behaving kindly as a result of the pleasant thought or feeling she might have toward the person.

I definitely think that the way Tina verbalizes her kindness toward others is a gift that comes naturally to her – much the way hugging comes natural to some. After we left the restaurant, I thought a lot about how Tina’s words are powerfully connecting and I realized that along with continuing to practice hugging, I should also work on connecting with people by expressing kind words toward them – and about them – more often.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


On being … an aide–mémoire of sorts

By Ingrid Sapona

I love clementines – those tiny citrus gems that are widely available here in Canada from about November to March. We didn’t have these when I was growing up. We had tangerines, but not clementines.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw them. It was the mid-1980s and I was living in Amsterdam. Though the sign on the basket said clementines, I figured that was Dutch for tangerine (or maybe for “mini tangerine”).

I bought some on the spot because they made me homesick for my mother, who loves tangerines. I’ll never forget a story she told me about my father giving her tangerines as a gift when they were dating. (I know, in this day and age it might seem an odd gift – but after the war, a gift of fruit – especially something so exotic – must have been like gold.)

Though I soon realized clementines are not tangerines, I fell in love with them. A few years later I was thrilled when we first got them in Toronto. That year, since they weren't yet available in Buffalo, I surprised Mom with a box of them for Christmas. As soon as she unwrapped the box she started to tell me the story about the tangerines from Dad. She was surprised when I told her that I had remembered the story and that that’s why I thought she’d like the gift of clementines.

As with any food that I really love, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to clementines. For example, I much prefer the ones from Morocco over the ones from Spain. I find the Moroccan ones generally sweeter, much easier to peel, and nearly always seedless – all things that I prize in clementines.

The other day a friend noticed on my kitchen counter a small dish filled with seeds. She asked what they were. Hoping to deflect further discussion, I nonchalantly said they were clementine seeds. From the look on her face, I could tell that my response wasn’t quite enough. So, I further explained that, in fact, there were 27 seeds and that they all came from one clementine.

Clearly unimpressed with this additional information, she asked me why I’m saving them. Realizing that no answer would sound sane, I told her I had kept them as an aide-mémoire for an On being…. She laughed and shook her head, knowing there was no point in asking more – she’d just have to wait for the column.  

So, about those clementine seeds on my counter. It’s true, they all came from one clementine – a fact I can honestly say amazes me now when I look at them in the little bowl. But, as I was eating that clementine one December evening, the seeds irritated the hell out of me.

As I spit out the initial seed or two that evening, I rationally remembered that I’d long-ago noticed that sometimes the first clementines of the season are harder to peel and they often have a seed or two. (Indeed, I’ve always figured this has something to do with them being picked younger.) After soothing myself that such was to be expected so early in the season, I popped the next section in my mouth. With that very next bite I was rudely surprised by two, if not three, more seeds. Turns out every damned section of that clementine was like that!

With each seed I spit out, my annoyance grew. By the end of the clementine my irritation had eclipsed my enjoyment of the clementine. Worried that the whole damned crate was going to be like that, I immediately peeled a couple more. To my great relief, the others were seed-free bits of perfection that I had expected.

When I went to toss the seeds I had spit out, I still couldn’t believe how many there were. So, I started counting them. As I did, I started thinking about what those seeds were. That’s when I realized that besides being a source of irritation, they also represented the promise of future clementines. Once I saw them like that, I felt ashamed at my irritation. So, I kept those 27 seeds to remind me of a New Year’s resolution I’d be making for 2013.

The resolution those seeds stand as a reminder of is that whenever I find myself annoyed by something, I should pause and take a second look at the source of the irritation. Maybe there’s an underlying good – or usefulness – that, in the scheme of things, trumps my annoyance.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona