There is a common salutation we provide for each other that is glommed onto “Hey.” I often hear and say, “Hey, how ya doin’?” It is a conversation starter. Sometimes, I have people actually tell me how they are doing, but most of the time they say, “Fine.”
Depending on their facial expression and other body language, I gather that they are doing fine or they are just being polite and not telling me the truth. Now I ask you, when did our culture ever get in the habit of lying in order to express politeness?
I believe that all we actually have is right now. It is the only dependable place in time that exists. As the song goes, “The future’s not ours to see.” Now is the only place we have power; we can only do things right now. So what is the purpose of spending precious time thinking up a lie?
Every science fiction story about time travel teaches us that we cannot change the past. If we happen to run across a plot that allows that capability, disastrous things happen as a result of a domino effect caused by one simple little breach in that iron-clad universal rule that is listed right next to this one: “Nothing can be created or destroyed.”
Now, spit, or the proper socially acceptable term, “saliva,” is locked away behind the lip muscles, where it is stored in seemingly unlimited supply. Sometimes it can dribble out the corners of the mouth where there is less muscular control. Usually that happens in deep sleep or when a person is in a coma or has had too many beers or has mixed alcoholic libations not following the rule: “Whiskey on beer, never fear; beer on whiskey, mighty risky.” I am not sure this rule is of the same caliber as the ones related to changing the past or the creation/destruction rules, but it looms ever present in my memories of my misspent youth.
Occasionally, spit can become a projectile. Sometimes spit can be forcefully ejected with food that is not palatable for whatever reason. Many years ago, my Aunt Flo offered me a piece of cake with the admonition that she was not going to tell me what was in it. I insisted she tell me after I “oo-ed and ah-ed” over how good it was. After the third bite, she finally gave in and told me. “Pinto beans! Can you believe it? Pinto beans!” Aunt Flo said with great pride, coupled with hands on her hips and a giggle as she downed another bite.
While I did not forcefully eject the contents of my mouth across the table into Uncle Max’s face, I did reach for the napkin and stealthily squeezed as much of the sweet, moist, tasty goodness out of my mouth and cleansed my palate with a gulp of coffee. I never took another bite of that pinto bean cake. I admit that there was something psychological that I could not explain to myself or anyone else about exactly why I could not finish what was on my plate. I lied and said, “This is so delicious and I am stuffed and can’t eat another bite.” If I could change the past, I would have talked about what I was feeling.
So what does all of this have to do with the theme of this issue of My Generation, doing good? Well, perhaps it is one of my numerous tangents I wander around with the thought that somewhere all of this will become connected. Buddhism teaches that everything is connected, so why not the road map of tangents that runs endlessly through my brain and occasionally dangles out my finger tips into the cyberspace of my computer?
At the time of the unforgettable Pinto Bean Cake Episode of my life, I was in college in the western side of Alabama, and Aunt Flo and Uncle Max lived in the eastern side. It was a two-hour drive. I would visit every month or so. While I loved spending my weekends at college with my friends, I felt compelled to visit that part of my family; it was an obligation. I am not sure about the relationship between fulfilling obligations and doing good deeds. I felt better after I visited them, but I think I was appreciating that I did not have to make that drive and spend the weekend with my family for a while.
Years later, I was leaf-peeping with my goddaughter, Emma. She had just learned to read and she read the sign at the beginning of a road I had turned down. It said “Dead End.” I was curious about where the road went, as the map showed that it connected to another road.
Emma started crying and begged me to turn back, because she thought the sign meant we were going to die. I assured her that the sign did not mean that, but the road simply did not connect to other roads and that we would be fine. This did not calm her at all, so I pulled into the next driveway to turn around. We could actually see where the road ended into a hundred feet of woods. Through the bare limbs, we could see the road on the opposite side that came in from the other direction. Again, this did not appease her and she continued to cry until we got off the dreaded “dead end” road.
Over the years, Emma and I have had numerous conversations about death. She often reads my articles (Hi Emma, How ya doin’?). I trust that Emma will continue to feel comfortable sharing with me how she really feels. I like when she tells me she is feeling fine, and means it, just as much as I like when she talks about the hard times she is experiencing as a teenager. I am not sure whether time that we spend together fulfills the “do good” part in either one of us. But I do think that we both benefit from the challenges we offer to each other on this seemingly dead-end road of life. I sometimes wonder what my life experience would have been had I talked with my aunt about my reaction to knowing what was in the cake.
Revisiting the past to experience from a different vantage point creates a new experience in the now, which potentially leads us to making decisions that alter the road ahead. Catching a glimpse of the continuing path on the other side of hard times can often open the way to uncover decisions that can have life changing potential.
So, I am ready: Does anyone out there have a recipe for pinto bean cake? I would like to try it out on Emma.
Lenora Trussell, RN, is an end-of-life tour guide. She is available for presentations, workshops, and as a travel planner for that pesky end-of-life journey we are all destined to take. She is available for comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.