Sunday, November 21, 2010

Epic Fail

Now that I've got the posting of my interview taken care of, I've got a lot of catching up to do.  Last weekend we had guests from several places come to stay at the Zen Center for a priest ordination.  They had to eat, so I answered the call to prepare a few meals for guests and residents.

In the almost twenty years that I've been cooking, half of that professionally, I've never cut myself with knife anything more than a scratch.  So within fifteen minutes of prepping for breakfast I dragged my knife across the tip of my finger, cutting deep. Of all the places and times for it to happen, it happened at the Zen Center, where cooking is emphasized as mindful practice. I'm professionally trained in various knife skills and even I managed to cut myself just slicing apples.  I wouldn't necessarily call it hubris, I was still being careful, but my mind drifted.  This served as a painful reminder that it doesn't matter how experienced you are, you always have to pay attention to what you're doing.

I disrespected my knife by not giving it my full attention and it bit me.

Knowing that the painful lessons are the ones that we're most likely to remember, I think (hope) that I learned my lesson.  A few days later as I was watching it heal, I wondered if it would leave a scar.  I've never been one for battle scars from the kitchen as many line cooks are, but I thought a permanent mark might be fitting as a reminder to remain present while cooking.

The thought of scarred fingers took me a few digits over to a mark on my index finger about an inch long and an eighth of an inch wide with three pairs of dots along side.  This is an old scar from my childhood that resulted from some poorly thought out creativity.

I used to make all kinds of things from the cardboard that came in my dad's laundered work shirts.  On this occasion I was trying to poke a hole in a piece with one blade of a pair of scissors.  I was successful in making the hole, but on the other side was the gap between my index and middle finger.  The gap wasn't wide enough for the blade to miss slicing my finger.

At first I thought it was just a scratch... until I moved the cardboard away.  There was so much blood!  Before my mind could make sense of it, there was blood all over the desk where I was sitting.  I'm not sure if it actually hurt as much as I thought it did at the time, but seeing that much of my own blood incited panic.

This happened at the school where my mom was teaching at the time, on the day before school started.  I know that she was in a meeting, but I don't remember all of the details between seeing the blood and sitting in the trauma room at the ER other than the pain and terror.  By the time the doctors came in to stitch me up, it'd worn off.  I don't remember if it still hurt, but I'd calmed down and was hoping it wasn't going to require stitches.

The cut was deep.  When the bleeding slowed and they cleaned the wound I could see through the layers of skin into the meat.  The doctors decided to skip injecting the local anesthetic and just poured it right in, saving me the added trauma before the sutures. 

Without the pain as a distraction, it had become a learning experience for me.  How often do you get closer than front row seats to a finger getting stitched back together?  It was interesting and made for a great story on the first day of school back from summer vacation.  Plus, on the way home from the hospital all I could think about was the sight of some poor second grader showing up for the first day of class to a dried pool of blood on his desk and floor.  (I was told later that it had been cleaned up shortly after we'd left for the hospital.)

It's weird how life teaches us lessons.  We're always supposed to learn from our mistakes and sometimes we do, but other times the point just doesn't get driven home enough.  Sometime life uses erosion and slowly etches the lesson in over time, but other times it cuts right to the chase and splits us right open.

I'm not sure if my recent cut will leave a scar, so its lesson may come and go.  What I do know is that I've sure watched where my fingers are before poking a blade through an object over the last twenty some years. 


  1. Respecting the knife. . . Mindfulness seems so obviously the most helpful thing to do, yet how often I find myself eating while tweeting, etc. Not even tasting the wonderful food.

    Often I think peaceful practice is easy, actually it takes a lot of effort. Eh?

  2. I think it goes beyond just "helpful," there's an imperative there.

    When I took the Intro to Zen Meditation class at the Zen Center, we were given an apple as homework to eat mindfully and experience it with all our senses, even our mind.

    After that I did my best to avoid multitasking and it's improved not just the quality of my work, but the quality of my comprehension and my life. I now try to mindfully enjoy a cup of tea after sitting down before morning zazen.

    I think Brad Warner said something about reading and eating in one his books, that it was disrespectful of the food.

    I think often practice is easy and getting easier. It's when we let our guard down and forget to put out the effort that it goes from possible to impossible. As soon as we take comfort for granted, there's a problem.

    Thanks for the comment