The Rosewater Man

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10 May 2019 by romanin

Many of us are addicted to being busy.  Are you one of those?  When I’m busy I subconsciously feel more valuable and useful.  But there is still a longing for the contemplative; a longing to have my relationships with others go deeper; a longing to slow down.  The Rosewater man has such a life: occupied but not busy; his days are full yet simple.

There is a children’s book (I can’t remember the name) about a boy in a middle-eastern country (maybe Egypt?) who is narrating his day.  He has a donkey and a cart full of gas containers and goes about the city selling/delivering gas (fuel) to residents.  He has a rout, and is familiar with it, and meets people along the way who know him.  One person he meets is the Rosewater Man.  The Rosewater Man is a fella who goes about the city selling rosewater.  It is refreshing and delicious, and on hot days, people will buy a cup from him to cool off.  The boy seems to be on quite friendly terms with the rosewater man, and the chat and the Rosewater Man tells the boy stories.  All the while, the boy is reflecting and contemplating a secret that he wants to tell his family after dinner that evening.  When he finally goes home to tell his family, he reveals that he has learned to write his name!  So you can see from this ending that the boy is quite young, and that work is more necessary in his world than education.

There is some romance to this story.  There is a belonging that is expressed; the boy is an integral piece of the puzzle or tapestry of this city scape and community.  He has a simple task and simple job that helps and gives him a sense of purpose and pride.  And the simplicity of his job allows him to be a bit contemplative and allows him to focus on his relationships; the relationships he has with those in the city, like the Rosewater Man.

Although the story is about the boy, the Rosewater Man caught my attention. The Rosewater Man is an adult, yet like the boy, he has a simple job.  He has experience and wisdom, but his task in life is to sell rosewater.  What would that be like?  He goes home, and he has his recipe for rosewater.  He eats and drinks with the money that he has made from his sales, and buys the ingredients he needs to make the best rosewater he knows how.  His rosewater perhaps is unique among others, and that’s why his patrons like it.  His main means for making money is making a new pot of rosewater, bottling it, and selling it on the street. So absurdly simple.

The man is identified as the Rosewater Man.  It has become part of his identity.  Who is he?  He is the man who sells rosewater.  In my American upbringing, I am more attracted to variety.  How do we diversify?  How do we create a few more products that can bring in more clientele?  Others sell rosewater, how do I get a bigger piece of the market share?  How do I come up with new ways to make rosewater to stay fresh and ahead of the curve? But the life of the Rosewater Man is beautifully simple.

What if I became the Penmaker? What if that was my sole occupation; I perfect the art, and become known for making pens.  I don’t do anything else.  I have a little shop dedicated to turning logs into pens, and that’s what I do.  Simple, repetitive, mundane, beautiful.

In this simplicity, I can focus, like the boy and the Rosewater Man, on relationships: on those I sell my pens to, on my neighbors, on those I meet and get to know in the market.  I can read and pray and live a quiet simple life.  Isn’t there something alluring in that?

I fear that in our busy-ness, we have lost the sense of the importance of the contemplative life.  Busy-ness has become a drug that helps us tell ourselves we are productive and useful.  But God meets us in our solitude, in the quiet mundanity, and in our relationships with people that bear His image.  When we diversify and put all of our energy into programs, meetings and growth, we can lose that.  Furthermore, we fall into the lie that being alone is a waste of time.  Therefore we get burned out, insensitive to the spirit, and largely ignorant regarding how to have intimate relationships with people.  When those that need help call, they feel immediately that they are imposing on your busy schedule, and they often are.  We lose the joy of helping a neighbor at the drop of a hat, or entertaining a surprise visitor for an hour.

I feel a longing for that simplicity.  What would it be like to be the Rosewater Man?  Is he content?  Does he long for the more “significant” life of a business man?  Or does he wake up in the morning, pray, and get excited for what conversations he might have that day?  Don’t mistake, I am sure money is very important to him and his livelihood.  But perhaps the work of selling rosewater and making money exists as a necessary part of life so that he can engage in the truly important things: relationships with the people around him.


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