She visited eight houses on her neighborhood tour, and so came home with a sizable haul. When she dumped them all onto the floor to sort through them, she literally did an uncontrolled happy dance with excitement and joy. Then she sat down in the middle of the pile and smelled each piece. She picked them up and held them to her nose, the paper wrappers pressed up against her nostrils, inhaling deeply. “Smells good,” she said breathlessly.
A few types of candy her mother immediately confiscated as being unfit for her two-year-old teeth. Gobstoppers and Milk Duds and Skittles disappeared. But other candies remained in the pile: candy corn, Hershey’s chocolate varieties, gummy bears. But the candy she was most drawn to was the Dum-Dum sucker. She had three of them, and she rolled them each under her nose with relish and delight. Then she examined their wrappers, the colorful simplicity of which appealed to her. “I want to eat it,” she announced, holding up all three of them. Before we knew it, she had unwrapped them all.
We reluctantly agreed that she could eat one of them. She chose the whitish one, which I think was the cream soda flavor. She attempted to run off in excitement, but fearing she would trip and fall and gouge a hole in her esophagus, we instructed her that she could only eat it while sitting on my lap. She happily complied, clearly willing to do whatever was necessary to experience the pleasures of candy.
You would have thought we’d given her liquid gold. We have only a few books that can capture her attention long enough for her to sit still for the twenty or so minutes that she sat in my lap savoring the sweet sphere with hardly a word. We watched her mommy answer the door and hand out candy to the other trick-or-treaters, and all the while she sat quietly with the sucker in her mouth. Her bedtime came and went, and we eventually had to remove the sucker from her possession in order to start corralling her to brush her teeth and get ready for bed. Obviously, this was met with much resistance: “Not all done!” she insisted. And she wasn’t; at least a third of the Dum-Dum sucker still remained after twenty minutes.
I suppose it won’t be long before a single Dum-Dum sucker isn’t nearly enough to satiate her sweet tooth. If they made Dum-Dums without the stick in the middle, I’d probably eat them like popcorn, unwrapping them one after another to pop them in my mouth and crunch them into pieces, the last shards of one intermingling with the newly chomped pieces of the next one. I guarantee you I could not make one single sucker last for twenty minutes. But then again, candy is old news for me. I am an adult and I can have candy any time I want it. I hoard loose change in a jar in my office, often visiting the vending machine after lunch to buy myself a candy bar with three times the sugar as a single Dum-Dum. And I don’t even consider myself as being a sweet-toothed person.
Last night I watched her savor that sucker as if was the greatest thing she’d ever tasted. In those twenty minutes, it didn’t matter how much candy she’d gotten or which pieces we’d secreted to the trash to protect her tiny teeth. For those minutes, that sucker was all she needed or wanted. Its delicious, delightful flavor flowed over her tongue and teeth and filled her throat as she swallowed and it was enough to keep her riveted in her seat, taste superseding all other senses. Her sense of taste became a sensation worthy of focus and attention and the fact that she could also hold the candy on a stick and remove it from her mouth at intervals simply added to her ability to make the enjoyment last.
I will admit, I was jealous of her. I found myself longing for the days when I was so easy to please, when I could find such blissfully simple pleasures in small and singular things. When I eat a brownie or a piece of cake that I find so delicious, I have to have more than one. And in other aspects of this world – not just sweets, but any other experience that I enjoy or find pleasurable – it seems that I am always rushing to get to it and then rushing to get to the next one. Slowing down and savoring just goes against the grain. I don’t think I’m the only one who lives like this; it seems to be the nature of adulthood in our culture. We are called “consumers,” not “enjoyers” or “savorers”. Our task in this world is not to relish but to consume. There are some places I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy myself. I think I can savor a good glass of wine or beer; the beauty of a sunset; the aroma of freshly ground coffee; the touch of my beloved. But I don’t savor these things nearly often enough. It feels as if all my time between these things is filled with tasks and so when I have time to savor something I feel the need to pack that time with as many pleasurable things as possible so to maximize my enjoyment.
As my daughter illustrated last night, this is not how enjoyment works. Enjoyment is slow, sustained, and protracted. Enjoyment is time-consuming, not pleasure-consuming. It is an investment of energy, focus and attention. And it is completely worth it. Last night, in the time that my little girl took to do nothing but appreciate literally a quarter-ounce of sugar, I might normally spend that time one evening watching a sitcom while eating a bowl of ice cream, texting on my phone, and perusing an article in a magazine. It’s humbling.
But you know what I do know how to savor? My daughter. Because the whole time she sat in my lap doing nothing but eating a lollipop, I sat doing nothing but watching her and smelling her hair and holding her close to me. Perhaps the secret of shifting from being a consumer to being a savorer is discovering the ultimate non-consumable in another human being. She is not mine to own and consume; I only get to share in the mystery and delight of her existence. But I could sit for hours holding her close to me and marveling in and with her and all the joys of the world that she sees in new and fresh ways.
Thank God for children. If there is any redemption to be had in this world, I believe children will point us to it. Who better to teach us how to savor the simple, delicious pleasures that are everywhere around us? Next time you feel overwhelmed in the constant deluge of this task-oriented, consumerist culture, hold a child.