The Thunker - Sarah Donohoe

Last week I questioned the ambiguous chestnut. Who has ever eaten one? Where does the chestnut tree grow? What good are the nuts, really?

It didn’t take long before I heard from my friend Pete S. who clarified that some people are well acquainted with the elusive chestnut, including Pete himself. (Elusive to those of us residing in this part of the country, anyway.)

He said, “I am very familiar with chestnuts. As a young boy growing up in the Philadelphia area, I lived in Chestnut Hill and went to Chestnut Hill Academy for boys (now coed). I used to walk to and from school with some of my classmates. Well, along the road that we walked on every day, there were many beautiful big chestnut trees, which produced tons of chestnuts. Therefore, when you have 4- thru 6-graders lingering on the way home, the only logical thing to do is throw chestnuts at each other. Sometimes months later, my mom would find moldy chestnuts in my backpack! ”

Upon further research, we learn that the chestnut tree’s growing range is from southern New England west to southern Michigan and south to north Florida and east Texas. But the trees produce ammunition—uh, I mean nuts—only where there are at least 100 frost-free days.

Pete also said, “I have also eaten chestnuts from venders on the streets of NYC and Williamsburg, VA. ” My affiliate Joe recalls that indeed, chestnuts are sold by street vendors in New York City, where Joe lived as a young adult, attempting to make a go of it in the world of theater (and more successfully as a taxi driver). He said the scent of the roasting nuts is intoxicating, the blue smoke contrasting against autumn’s red and yellow leaves, dancing up and away from the stall as if to escape the crowded sidewalks of the city. The flavor of the aromatic nuts?

“It is an acquire taste, ” said Joe diplomatically.

The nut of the chestnut tree is wrapped in a green shell with sharp spikes, as seen in the photo here. Sharp spikes open to reveal a smooth, glossy shell. Think about the similarities next time you are addressed in a less than friendly manner by an overworked and underpaid clerk this holiday season. When this opportunity presents itself, try to crack that spikey outer shell and discover the beauty hidden inside.

Elijah Cummings, a great American who often did just that, died a little over a month ago. Cummings was able to break through the sharp spikes in life and uncover the goodness inside. Here is an example: In 1962, when Cummings, who was black, was a boy, he was attacked by a mob of white people after he had been swimming in a public pool. Years later a man who had been part of that mob apologized to Cummings. With no sign of resentment (sharp spikes), he accepted the apology with grace (glossy chestnut). It couldn’t have been easy for him. When stung, it is difficult not to sting back. But easy isn’t the goal when doing what is right. Not hurting others is the goal. Building unity is the ultimate right thing to do.

Cummings came to be known for a short but impactful poem he recited many times. It was written by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the president of Morehouse College while Martin Luther King Jr. was a student there. There are multiple versions of the poem, but this is as it was recited by Cummings the first time he addressed Congress as a newly elected congressman in 1996:

I only have a minute.

Sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon me, I did not choose it,

But I know that I must use it.

Give account if I abuse it.

Suffer, if I lose it.

Only a tiny little minute,

But eternity is in it.

It is impossible to live life fully every single minute of every single day. But even if we can make the best use of one minute a day—perhaps to accept an apology, or to ask for forgiveness; to smile at the driver who cut us off (what good comes from any other expression?), or offer a sympathetic nod to the mother with her screaming toddler in the grocery store—imagine the impact!

What we do with each minute can sometimes change the life of one or the lives of many. There are 1440 minutes in 24 hours. Let’s make the most of at least one of them a day.

One tiny little minute can hold an eternity within it.

You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, donoholdt@gmail.com.

© 2019 Sarah Donohoe

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