Some people invest in Wall Street. I, apparently, invest in cheese.
Having recently admitted to my friend Ellen that I was in serious danger of becoming a card-carrying hermit, and recognizing my need to devote more time to my friendships, I decided this week to join a group of fellow translators and interpreters for a purely social event. Some of these women I’ve known for years. Some I’d never met. But they were coming together on Saturday morning for brunch, and I was going to join them.
I chose the safe option and offered to take a cheese tray: dash in to the store, grab a tray at the deli and check out – 10 minutes, tops. That was the plan.
But the store was out of cheese trays. I quickly weighed my options: wait in line here or race to the other store a 1/4-mile away. The time seemed better invested staying put, so I joined the line at the deli counter.
We inched forward. The lone deli worker greeted her regulars as she filled tubs with salads and sliced ham. Finally, it was my turn.
That was when Deli Lady politely said, “Just a moment,” and disappeared.
I looked at the time again. Surely she was coming back soon… right? I re-calculated my options and the time involved and decided it was still probably better to stay.
A couple of minutes later, Deli Lady was back.
“I need a cheese tray, please,” I said, trying not to sound anxious.
“We’re out,” she answered. I refrained from pointing out that their lack of prepared trays was precisely why I was in line there, and not at the checkout.
Could she make a tray? She thought about it a moment, then said yes. She asked how big I wanted it: small, medium or large. Unsure of just what those meant, I began gesturing, measuring random sizes in the air.
She didn’t blink.
Eventually I added the words “ten to fifteen people” (while still waving my hands around). This got a nod from Deli Lady and she once again disappeared. I once again began weighing my options. Did I have the time to wait for her to make a tray? She seemed to be working at I-don’t-want-to-be-here speed. Should I leave and take my chances elsewhere?
We know how valuable it is. When we invest it, we are so loathe to pull the plug.
And so I waited, and eventually Deli Lady could be seen sorting through trays in the back room. She found what she obviously believed to be the right size and wandered back. It looked a little big to me, but my investment of time seemed about to pay off so I shut my mouth.
Cheese began to fall in thick slabs from the slicer. She cubed it with an enormous knife. A small mountain of cheese began to grow on the tray, all in slow motion.
The minutes ticked by as she found the right lid. More, as she keyed in the prices. My investment in cheese was quantified. She secured the lid, handed me the tray and drawled, “have a nice day,” as I made a mad dash for the checkout line.
Total time: 45 minutes.
As I drove across the Metroplex, I pondered our odd relationship with time. We waste time, forget time, lose track of time and sometimes think we have all the time in the world.
But the moment we become conscious of our investment, time becomes a thing of immeasurable value for which we fight.
We finish poorly-written books in order to not invalidate the time spent finding out just how bad they really are. We back the same team or attend the same church year after year because we’ve always done so. We defend relationships, heroes and ideals (sometimes beyond their expiration dates) because of the time we have invested up to that point.
As I pulled up to our hostess’ house and parked, I thought of the group of women gathered inside. Friends, acquaintances, strangers – all of them people in whom I was about to invest a little time.
Then I hoisted my tray and marched up to the door. Today, my investment in friendship would be conscious – and it would come with cheese.