Bitter, piping-hot coffee streams down my throat. It’s my new favorite thing to wake-up to. Just a few months ago, I would have wrinkled my nose in disgust, thinking, who would willingly put such a vile substance in their body? In fact, my whole life, despite its tantalizing aroma, I never thought I would enjoy coffee (except for those occasional spoonfuls from my mom’s sweetened cup when I was two; but that’s a different story.) Ten years ago, I probably would have snored through Bon Iver. Today, I find their mellow harmonies hauntingly beautiful. I’m not saying I’ve somehow “made it,” that my matured tastes are necessarily better than my simpler Relient K, cotton candy-loving days of yesteryear. (Incidentally, Relient K hits the spot on certain days, and once in a while, I really crave sugary cereal.) But it’s fascinating to see how I appreciate nuanced flavors, sounds, and ideas more than ever before. During the semester in Italy, I struggled to swallow wine at communion every Sunday, but after three months, developed quite a taste for it. Senior year of high school, I discovered Madeline L’Engle and Annie Dillard and plodded through their prose, reminding myself that it was truly great writing and that I would one day understand what in the world Dillard was talking about or how L’Engle could weave profound questions about life so naturally within stories of her personal triumphs and tragedies. I’m still always in awe at the talent that lies before me and get confused about some of Dillard’s metaphors, but now, I devour their writing. I’m currently reading “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” for the first time, and Dillard is opening my eyes to the wonder of nature in a way as powerful as the most stunning vistas I’ve seen in the Rockies of Montana or the sunsets on Florida’s shores have.
Chalk it up to a mere change of taste or increased ability to appreciate subtleties in food, music or any other creative experience as we grow older. But I would like to also think that the way our tastes change reflects the way life works. Not that trying experiences in life are as pleasing to swallow as a cup of black coffee (or whatever your favorite beverage is). But I’m gradually learning that they are a necessary part of life and even something I can appreciate in a different, perhaps deeper way as the obviously enjoyable experiences. As I said goodbyes indefinitely to friends I grew to love over four years this May, I tasted some of the most intense bitterness I have lately. Likewise, feeling my heart pound in my chest during the last stretch of a sunny morning run or kneading bread dough, eager to savor its yeasty goodness after work today, I taste pure sweetness. With age, I hope, comes an always deepening appreciation not only for exotic flavors and sophisticated tunes, but a deep-seated gratitude for the difficult times of life, too. I will always initially prefer the taste of a fudge brownie, but the more coffee-like challenges, initially bitter but full of potential for appreciation, shouldn’t be something I cower away from.
I haven’t thought through all the implications of this train of thought yet, and I don’t think it will ever be that simple to just embrace trials. Death, despair, depression, and a million other ways our world and hearts are broken are far more complex than this little analogy can create answers for. But for what it’s worth, I figured I’d write this all down before I forget it like I do so many other thoughts.