Last week I was in Switzerland, and I saw something terrifically beautiful. Well, I saw a lot of beautiful things in gorgeous little cities and sprawling museums. But one very small thing made me stop and take specific notice. One morning I was on the train and the sound of newspapers flittered and scuffled around me; everyone was reading about the tragic news from Japan. In the midst of disbelief, shock, and sadness, there was one woman who stood out. She was sitting diagonally across from me; she was quiet, peaceful, her newspaper was folded in her lap. When she caught my eye, she had just taken a blood orange from her sack. The ruby blush of the golden peel sparkled like a jewel against the bland gray-white of newsprint and the industrial, generic interior of the train.
The woman removed a Swiss army knife from her bag, gracefully flicked a blade out of the crimson frame, and gingerly scored the rind of the orange at intervals. Though she was a few yards away, I could literally feel the sensitivity with which she wielded her knife, the way the blade carved into the small space between peel and fruit without piercing a single segment. She put the knife down on the newspaper, as the warm notes of citrus oil gently perfumed the train. As if by magic, the fruit began to slip out of its skin, her fingers swiftly gliding along the scored rind. But what happened next simply entranced me; the woman picked the knife back up and began to remove gossamer strands of pith. One wrist flicked the knife, while the other gently turned the fruit; she picked it clean. The woman paused, as if to take a deeper breath, reached for the napkin that had once protected the fruit inside her bag, wiped her blade clean, and put the knife away. All that was left was to enjoy each perfect segment.
OK, why am I telling you this? It seems to me that this woman's small ritual, one that she has undoubtedly (given her adeptness) performed hundreds of times, speaks to the power of practice, of repetition, and the solace we can find in it. In the face of such horror and misery, this woman chose to peel an orange; she chose, but for a moment, to immerse herself within the boundaries and order of ritual; and she chose to find, literally, the sweet gem within. The juxtaposition of her calm movements and the beautiful orange against the folded newspaper filled with stories that had stopped the world in its tracks couldn't have been more drastic. But in that moment, it made total sense.