Paul Andersen: Is your life microwave or slow cook?
A combat veteran named Shawn is my latest, greatest contemporary philosopher. A returning moderator and co-leader for last week’s Huts for Vets program, Shawn is a Thoreau-back for living a deliberate life.
“I decided that my life should not be on microwave. It should be on slow cook,” he says. “With a microwave, there’s no savor, no flavor. It’s just done, and that’s it. With slow cooking, you smell the food before you eat. It’s all about slowing things down.”
Shawn is a hulking mass of a man who knows what it’s like to be “outside the wire” when he was on a combat deployment to Iraq in 2006-07. His honors include the Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge and a Meritorious Unit Citation. He came home, as have many veterans, humanized by war.
Shawn has a strong appetite for life. On his first Huts for Vets trip last year, he underwent a crucible on the 10-mile trail to Margy’s Hut. “That hike almost killed me,” he grimaces, “and for the first time in my life, I was vulnerable before my wife.”
His wife, Jodi, was also on the hike that year. As Shawn puts it, “She waltzed up that trail coaxing me on.” It is important to note that Shawn was pushing 300 pounds that year. His arms were bigger than my legs, and it was hard to tell which was the mountain and which was the man.
After being humbled on that trip, Shawn vowed to change things, so he worked off 80 pounds, something he credits to the keto diet and a committed regimen of exercise. Now he’s a lean, trim 220 — “my fighting weight,” he calls it. His arms are still bigger than my legs.
Shawn explained how the microwave life is a quick heat, a fast fix, a timed frame of living that’s measured by seconds. Shawn decided not to live that way, so now he’s a slow-cooking measure of humanity. (Try slow-cooking Shawn, and you’ll need an industrial-sized crock pot and a lot of patience.)
“When I go to church,” explains Shawn, an ordained preacher, “I like to put a roast in the oven on a low temperature and slow cook it. When I come home, the smell of that roast permeates the house with a savory fragrance that gives everyone an appetite.”
Slow-cooking Shawn is thoughtful, receptive and open to ideas. That’s why we invited him back to Huts for Vets as a co-moderator and trip leader. Shawn is a thinker, and he articulates his views like the loquacious preacher he has become.
His views are worth listening to because Shawn exemplifies the many thoughtful and somewhat troubled veterans who have become philosophers in the aftermath of combat experiences that have pitted them against the big questions: life, death and the meaning of existence.
If one is to examine moral injury — perhaps the most accurate description of the psycho-emotional damage from war — that examination requires the objective persistence of philosophic depth. You don’t get that with a microwave. It has to slow cook.
But that’s not what American culture seems to foment where most of us live on microwave settings, getting things done in a hurry without the tempering of deeper thought. Things may get warm and edible, but they may not be tender, succulent or truly palatable. Only slow cooking does that.
But many of us don’t have the time for slow cooking because of too many commitments and too little space on the day timer. So life becomes a hurried, fast food affair; something to fill the void, but not always to feed the soul.
Shawn reminded me of the traditional values in which I grew up — before microwaves — when my mother flavored our home with a Sunday dinner, taking the time and care that goes into a heart-warming meal to be shared with others.
Slow cooking requires care and patience, key ingredients in the recipe of life. Shawn dispenses that recipe as he preaches, whether to a congregation at a church or to a group of fellow veterans on a wilderness peak.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays, and he may be reached at email@example.com.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Certainly there is no replacing the voice Paul Andersen brought to the Times’ op-ed pages. For the next year, though, we’re going to use the Monday spot to bring some of the voices of our newsroom to these pages.