There is not a thing that is more positive than bread.Fyodor Dostoevsky
I have written about bread before, and talk of bread is unavoidable, but this is about the morning walk, the intention. There is a purity of purpose that is a raw and cleansing way to begin the day. There is no rush, no agenda other than necessity. My family needs bread. I will walk through the village to get it. Depending on the time of year I may bundle up more or less, or not at all. These days a mask from the supply on hooks to the left of the door. I close my eyes, and like an Olympic downhill skier, can envision the path I will follow – straight shot launch off the stoop, slalom from patch of cobblestones to patch of cobblestones, deciding which side of the center-street drainage gutter to straddle.
Right on Rue Chartreuse, the corner of twisting vines, left on narrower LaGoy; in passing give a passing glance down rue Parade where once I saw tumbled a very large and unexplained stuffed bear. Through the mini-Place, where Monsieur Rodier always waves and smiles out his window, past the cascade of jasmine and around the bend, turn right at the cedars, left again at the backdoor to the cloisters. It’s early enough, will they have the loaves I want? Will they be yet warm? Shall I take some croissants as well?
It’s all about the bread, and what we need, no distractions. It’s not a conscious effort. I realized early on that as a focus, something as elemental, unremarkable, and wonderful as bread is perfect. Doing for the sake of doing. Filling a need. Fifteen minutes of single-mindedness. There are times of the day when it’s hard to drive out thoughts of later, of commitments, and deadlines, and other concerns in the offing – not on the bread walk.
A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who founded a community in southwest France in the early 80’s to explore mindfulness, writes about similar moments in his book, At Home in the World – Stories and Essential Teachings From a Monk’s Life. He describes his approach to doing the dishes, a normally unpleasant task:
To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to be able to finish so I can sit down sooner and eat dessert or enjoy a cup of tea, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert or my tea when I finally have them. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!
I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy.
Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end. We do the dishes not only in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them, and to be truly in touch with life.
And walking for bread is, like washing dishes, a thing not to be rushed. It helps that bread is so essential. And reliable.
And so…15 minutes of my morning where I am nowhere else but here. A brief bavarder with the boulanger – he knows what I want without asking, but asks out of ritual. Grabbing a still warm loaf from the cooling racks near the ovens, he wraps it in parchment and offers it over with floured hands. I take the miracle offered, and walk home, miraculous.