35. If you charge ahead, where’s the joy of expectation?

Benny had a minor win while waiting to be served at a bakery one Saturday morning. There was a small family-owned shop, not one of those bakery chains, not far from his place that in Benny’s opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of other customers apparently, had the best cinnamon buns —they were bigger than usual, lots of glazing, and the sultanas seemed to be softer and juicier than the usual offerings. He was on his way to someone’s place and thought he’d bring along a contribution, and a half dozen of the big tempting buns seemed like a good choice — if he could get some… they were popular and ran out fast.

When he walked in there were people waiting in something that resembled a queue, or it was really a bunch, shifting their weight and craning to see behind the counter area — as for the order of being served, usually the customers were polite about who was next and the people behind the counter seemed to have a good idea of that anyway. But Benny himself wasn’t too worried about any of that today, and took a calm view about his intended purchase… there were other things he could get anyway… which was just as well as this time there seemed to be a slight apprehension in the rest of the bunch about being served — not exactly feeling like the prelude to a scramble, he thought, but a mild anxiousness — which Benny guessed was probably due to there being only one tray of those famous buns in the rack behind the serving counter, and it was thinning out fast.

He would have been next, so when an older shopper, who Benny knew came in right behind him, deftly fronted up to the counter and asked for all of the last few buns, Benny thought he had unfairly missed out. He could have said something, but just then out from the back of the bakery came the old man himself, carrying a big tray of just-freshly baked buns, wafting a cinnamon ambience into the serving area that brought almost audible relief to the other hopeful bun buyers. So Benny got six, and they were still warm and fragrant. The pushy shopper put her paper bag of presumably cooled buns into the plastic shopping bag hanging from her hand and walked out, but Benny carried his brown bag of buns flat on one hand, enjoying their fresh warmth on his palm through the brown paper and tickled that he didn’t rush this time.

Okay, so it wasn’t a high-five, dance on the spot, victory for the little guy sort of moment… but the takeaway message for Benny, were he to put this tickle into words, would have come from the admittedly coincidental confirmation it represented of the calm attitude he walked in with. He may yet need intermittent reminding, but for now at least he had evidence that the otherwise generally-accepted strong point of being focused and keen to get an end result or goal may not necessarily be such a strong point after all.

And this wasn’t just about buns of course. Benny could benefit from taking on the view that the race to win, the push for a payoff of some sort, to get ahead of the pack, as it were, could also just of itself take the shine off that beacon in the distance. And he would be reminded of this through various circumstances, some occasionally extraordinary, but most of them mundane.

One reminder came about through Benny’s making an effort to learn another language with a friend, which they did with a vague idea of heading off on an overseas adventure if they could scrape together the funds. There were structured lessons for them to work through, learning vocabulary, different verbs and how these are changed with tense (and this language also sometimes had formal and informal variants), and other grammatical necessities.

It was Benny’s tendency to charge ahead and learn by rote whatever he could from each section of the lessons, but his language buddy took the time to get to know more of the details, the tenses, and try to get a deeper familiarity, even of the more nuanced usages, before moving on. It didn’t take long before Benny realised that by racing ahead he just ended up with a ‘word salad’ but not much of a useful grasp of anything that could be helpful for really communicating. His co-learner soon became the obvious choice for future chief translator, and Benny had to go back over several chapters of their book to try to catch up. So here was another example — that in trying to be the fastest, Benny just ended up being left behind.

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Chapter index and link to slogans