Today in the Globe and Mail, there was a short piece on Ernest Hemingway and his “Iceberg Theory”. Basically, his belief that fewer words in writing were much more effective in delivering impact than using many. Use a few words to communicate the bare facts and let the reader fill in their meaning. With For Whom the Bell Tolls being one of my alltime favourites, I am inclined to agree. This “austere” approach to writing and stimulating thought in others got me thinking tonight of a recent experience the other day.

Chloe and I had ventured to the local Safeway to pick up some milk. As we approached the back of the store, I eyed an older fellow sitting on his stroller beside the juice cooler. He held a magnifying glass, shaking a little in his liver-spotted hand. In the other hand, he grasped a carton of orange juice, the magnifying glass held closely over it, his body hunched forward straining to see something. He seemed to notice us there then. He looked up at me with cataract-clouded eyes and said, “Can you help me with this. Your young eyes (I liked him all the more when he said this) will be able to pick out what I’m looking for.” I took the carton from him as he proceeded to elaborate. “Is there a symbol on there indicating that this has not been made from genetically-modified fruit?” I recall looking at him as if he were alien. After all, how many 80+ year olds are even aware of genetically-modified foods, let alone spend time perusing the backs of juice cartons?

I peered at the wording, slowly pushing the carton away from my face as I was reminded that even my eyesight is not what it used to be. I looked at the area where he indicated it should be, and sure enough, there was the symbol indicating exactly what he was looking for – I think something to the effect of GMO in a circle with a slash through it.

‘Yes,” I said. “there IS!”.  I was surprised, because at this point I wasn’t yet certain that this guy had his full faculties. Obviously he did, and more to spare.

“Thank you,” he said as he retrieved it from me.  “I was pretty sure this brand was safe. You know I don’t trust those huge companies like Monsanto. You never know what they’re up to!” And with that he placed it in his basket and inched his way onward.

I watched him leave, simply amazed. Even Chloe was taken aback (and hey, when you can impress a fifteen year old, you must be doing something right!).  As I look back on this now, it strikes me as a clear reminder that we should never underestimate the wealth of experience that resides in our elders, nor their capacity for forward-thinking and their ability to guide and enlighten. It is so easy as we make our own way through life to get caught up in the excessiveness of our own experience. We spend so much time wishing to imprint upon our own kids that we forget that we too have learning to do. And sometimes, the more effective lessons are the ones done with few words and a simple action at the back of a grocery store.

Chat on Friday.