The half-banana lying on the counter would be a tempting addition to my soy-yogurt lunch. Before slicing it up, I wanted to cut off the browning skin that had formed at its open end. This was a job for my good knife.
In my silverware drawer is a tray filled with knives—from paring knives to carving knives to serrated bread knives to an enormous cleaver that I once used to stab a particularly stubborn watermelon. Knives with wooden handles, plastic handles, curved or straight, sharp or dull, small or large.
But the knife that I coveted for my half-banana I called my “good knife.” I could see it right at the top of the pile. It’s a four-inch black J. A. Henckels International paring knife.
My thoughts swirled something like this: I love my good knife. But if I use it for this rinky-dink banana slicing, then I won’t get to use it when I need to slice something more substantial. A broccoli stalk, say, or a carrot. I’ll have to wait for a whole dishwasher cycle, which could be another few days. I better use that green knife, which is duller and less satisfying, but at least I’ll still have the good knife available.
I stopped. Huh? What logic would compel me to “save” my good knife for another, better occasion? Why not use it now, wash it, put it away, and use it again for the future broccoli or carrot event? I guess I could do that, but my unconscious utensil protocol apparently demands that I use each knife, run the dishwasher, then start over.
My mother always seemed to have a “good knife,” which I could never lay my hands on when she needed it most urgently. “No, not that one,” she’d say, as I thoughtlessly handed her any old knife, “the good one.” As if I was supposed to know which knife was her good knife.
I began to question my entire relationship with my knives. Why do I even own knives that I don’t like? Why endure the dull ones merely as a prelude to the good ones? Why not get an entire gourmet collection of exclusively good knives?
I do a similar thing with socks. I’ll wait to wear my favorite black knee socks until it’s almost time to do the laundry, just so they’ll be clean again sooner. Of course, I’m still wearing them only once between each laundry load, but I get the pleasure of that weekly reward. Why not buy seven pairs of perfect socks, one for every day?
Perhaps I’m cursed with a scarcity mentality, some core belief that life’s rewards don’t—and shouldn’t—come easily. That one should suffer for at least a few decades before getting some kind of cosmic payoff. Scarcity as a life strategy? What’s that about? Maybe it’s programmed into my DNA from my grandfather, who escaped the tsarist pogroms with only the clothes on his back. Grab what you have and run for your life. No time for savoring.
Then I thought: I bet there are people who do have only good knives. Wouldn’t that be an abundant way to live? They probably even throw out the old ones. Or at least sharpen them when they’re dull, so whatever the task—banana, broccoli, carrot, watermelon, hey, a coconut, for God’s sake—a beautiful, sharp, desirable knife was there for the asking.
I sliced off the darkened banana end with my good knife and ate my yogurt. Then, nearly giddy with glee at my revelation, I washed the knife with hot, soapy water and returned it to the drawer, where it lies atop the pile gleaming, calling me to use it whenever I want to, no waiting.