Science Writer

Joanna M. Foster

Cutting Board

My mother has a cutting board that is cracked and warped and stained. It's really only half a cutting board because long ago it fractured down the middle during a covert military operation staged by my older brothers. Even the most mundane adult accoutrements hold an allure for children unrivaled by the trendiest toy.

You can't actually cut on the damn thing unless it's correctly balanced with a sponge tucked under one corner and a band-aid tucked in your back pocket. If I had a nickel for every time I reminded my mother of how affordable a new cutting board would be, I could have bought her a new cutting board each week.

"But it still works" my mother would insist, awkwardly slicing celery in the valleys of its undulating topography.

"Barely" I would scoff.

"Look, this cutting board was around for about a century before you were born. Yes, it's a little decrepit, but then again, so am I, so we get along just fine."

Everyday in Hoboken, New Jersey, bookcases, bed frames and tables are discarded on the curb as 20-somethings move out of an old apartment or into a new one. Or maybe they just grow weary of waking up every morning to the same dresser - "Oh you again? I've run out of things to say to you." Whatever the excuse, gently used furniture ends up nonchalantly leaning against telephone poles or awkwardly squatting by fire hydrants with all the drawers pulled out or the legs unscrewed, shelves askew, waiting for the dump truck.

My mother's cherished cutting board couldn't be given away on Craigslist and yet a coffee table I salvaged from a dumpster last week sold for $50 online, all I had to do was polish away the scuff marks. Somehow our sense of what is valuable has become warped so that new things have value just for their newness and every time something is touched it loses worth.

You may say that not everyone has the luxury of time to clean and repair broken things, especially when you could just order a new one online and have it delivered to your door overnight. But if you want to talk about time, let's pause and consider how long after your death the trash you produce will pollute this planet.

I've noticed that my mother treats people like she treats that cutting board. She has been married for 35 years, volunteers at the nursing home and mentors kids with unstable families. She makes things that are worn or wounded work. Life is a process of continuous compounding damage. Everything tends towards chaos, nothing stays new or unblemished for long. We can choose to either run eternally on the treadmill of get and get rid of, constantly surrounded by trash and future trash, or we can stop, appreciate value obscured by dents and scratches and take the time to repair - initiate a cycle of restoration.