Finding joy in little things

By Jimmy Alford | Published Saturday, January 12, 2013

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I bought an eggplant the other day. I’ve never cooked eggplant before, but I heard they can be good. I’m pretty sure I still haven’t cooked one – I just messed one up and threw it away.

My family never ate eggplant when I was growing up, but they were always around. Papa, my dad’s father, tended a garden my whole life. He grew everything you could think of in an East Texas plot. To say he has a green thumb is an understatement – and for the most part all the family ate everything that sprung from the soil.

Jimmy Alford

His tomatoes were the pride of the garden, but tucked away on some row would always be a few eggplants. He never ate them; he never really picked them. I’m pretty sure my Nanny’s cookbook had no recipes involving eggplant – so why waste the time and energy planting and tending to them?

He explained it to me one time. He said he didn’t really care to ever eat them, but he loved to watch them grow. He said the way they developed, blossomed and bore fruit was beautiful. He would look them over every day, and it was comforting.

My cooking debacle reminded me of his garden. I still don’t care for eggplants, and they aren’t that beautiful to me, but for him they are special. I guess we all find beauty in small things – things that have no meaning to anyone else but us. Photography does for me what his garden did for him.

Scientists say humans do this instinctively. We try to make patterns and find meaning in randomness and chaos. This wiring in our brains makes us problem-solvers and spurs our creative talents. Something as unusual as seeing the beauty of an eggplant is innate in us.

It’s so innate that we project meaning into the world around us – even our pets. I’m no different with my dog, Chloe. I swear she smiles, but that may be just me wanting to see that.

Our minds can get us into trouble, too. How many times have you read someone’s text or email written in all caps and said, “Man, why are they so mad about going to Olive Garden?” Or maybe you swore that someone you work with is out to get you, or the refs at the basketball game are helping the other team win.

I’m glad my Papa saw something special in those eggplants, chose to find happiness in something so small.

I think I can do that, too, and I’m a better person for it – if not a better cook.

Jimmy Alford is a Messenger reporter.

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