The Slice In the Back
Last week I attended a birthday celebration for my mother-in-law. We like to go to a pizza place that has a buffet. There is an arcade with bumper cars, basketball hoops, and air hockey tables. The arcade takes up as much space as the dining room. We have gone there for years, sometimes for fun, sometimes only for pizza, and sometimes for both.
Families from all over our town come there with their children. The place is special to me because it used to be a Thursday night ritual when my wife and I first married. We have seen good service, bad service, great pizza, pizza that was just not right in some way, and our children have grown up having fun in inside those walls. Our oldest son even worked there while in high school.
The security is not as tight as Chuck E. Cheese, but it is safe and eyes can be kept on the younger ones. Last week there was a crowd and it was hard for the staff to make pizzas fast enough to feed the frenzied families. It was not quite chaos, but there were more younger children alone at the buffet than normal. While I was going through the line to pick through what was offered at the time, I noticed a pig-tailed, little girl in front of me.
She was struggling to reach the last piece of pepperoni pizza on the back of the buffet. I asked her if she would like for me to get it for her. She smiled, exposing holes where front teeth used to be, and said, “please.”
Remembering what it was like to be five years-old, I took action. Knowing also how much I like pepperoni pizza, and that it would be a few minutes before more was available, I smiled back at her. She handed me the handle of the pie knife, and I slid it under that last piece. Immediately, I put it on my plate, smiled at her, and went to sit down and enjoy my meal.
It felt good knowing I took the time to teach this little girl lessons in life. Lessons like, “don’t trust anyone over 30”, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”, “the early bird gets the worm”, “God helps those that help themselves”, “survival of the fittest”, and the eternal, “if you want something you have to go after it”. All lessons better taught at an early age.
Actually, I slid the pizza onto her plate, and she smiled and scurried off to where her parents were sitting.
Yesterday found my youngest son and me at a WalMart superstore looking for something other than fishing tackle. He is obligated, no matter where we are in the store, to ask if he can look at fishing rods. Right on time, he asked, and I obliged. A few minutes later, he came down the aisle I was in, with a tackle box, and said, “can I get it?”
Carter is at the age where everything is worth buying and also at the age when the only money he has is that which is given to him. He had no money, but wanted this tackle box, with all that was in his young heart. I responded, “put it on the list.”
As we drove for the next 45 minutes to our next stop on the list of errands, we discussed the merits of the tackle box. He looked up the prices of used tackle boxes. We compared different tackle boxes online. There was a list made, if only in our conversation, of whether it was a want, or a need. Finally, I asked him, “what makes you think you can just wish for something and it automatically happens?”
I paused. Was this not what I wanted him to think about with regard to love, peace, health for himself and others, and even abundance? After 50 years of hearing silly advice like, “God helps those that help themselves”, I was about to go into the merits of whether he deserved the tackle box. If he had earned the right to ask. What he could do to earn it. All after meditating, for nearly an hour that morning, on accepting goodness of what the Universe had to offer.
Some of you might believe that children need to learn patience. Perhaps you think children need to learn the value of a dollar. You may even think that if I spoil him, he will expect that everything will come easy. He will believe that life is easy. What more would I want for anyone?
This morning I will buy him the tackle box and thank him for doing what he does for the family (embarrassingly, he does a lot, with no compensation). I will tell him to thank God and not me. More money will be spent than what I have to spend. This week I will eat sandwiches and not fast food. It is what my mother would have done for me and I turned out alright.
I will also thank him for my bracelet. He made it for me earlier this week.
The truth is this. None of us are self-made. While we have worked to be where we are, we are also recipients of undue grace, favor, and love. Nothing can be given, it can only be shared, because it was all given in the first place. We are all like the little girl who needed help with the slice and the boy that wanted only a tackle box. If I were to teach any lesson, it would be to expect good things. It would be that we do not get what we deserve, we get more than we deserve.
I know of too many people that have left this world too soon. There are stories every day of those that regret not having done a thing for a person before it was too late. These are the lessons I would teach. And in life, and in raising children, and in giving, it is better to err on the side of compassion. It is always better to err on the side of compassion.
Carter and I will get into real happiness and how all things are temporary later in his career as a human. Today, with no hesitation or explanation, I will teach him, that sometimes, the only thing you have to do to receive, is ask. Sometimes, even parents share. And that sometimes, a tackle box does not have to be a lesson.