“Oh look! That guy just dropped his burger and fries on the sidewalk!” J. said.
“What happened?” E. asked.
“That truck pulled into the parking spot so fast, it must have scared him. Oh, don’t tell me he’s going to pick it up and eat it!” J.’s commentary drew the three of us from our meals to the scenario outside the tiny downtown cafe. We watched the young man crouch on the sidewalk looking immobilized by the mess.
“Oh look…the driver of the truck is talking to him…now he’s heading for the store. The guy looks pissed at the driver,” J. added.
“I know the guy…it’s Dan. He’s quiet with a quick temper. The driver’s lucky Dan didn’t duke him,” I said. (Dan is not the real name.)
We continued our meal. Dan kicked at the mess, then carried on his way – heading for a garbage container, I hoped.
We four continued visiting. Soon, J. said, “Oh he’s out there again…omigod…he’s eating the bloody burger. The box is still on the ground. He’s eating the food that’s been all over the sidewalk!”
Compassion rose. Dan lived frugally, but I didn’t expect he was desperate.
The scene stayed with me. I knew more about this 30-something man than I had let on. His heart is full of love, but he’s often thwarted by his intensity. Hitting walls had been more familiar to Dan than finding gates that swung both ways.
A few years ago, it seemed he’d found a gate. He fell deeply in love with a young woman. They became pregnant and were quietly married. He worked hard doing odd jobs. That was difficult with no car, but he looked happy.
His wife gave birth to twins. Before the babies were a year old, one died of crib death. Dan was beside himself with grief. In spite of his deep love, no matter how hard he tried to do the right things, grief magnified the couple’s negativity. His love couldn’t keep his devastated bride by his side.
She and the baby went to her home province to be with her parents.
Two weeks after Dan’s hamburger incident, my walk buddy, Marion, and I were meeting at a coffee house. As I waited, I saw Dan washing the windows of the establishment. He saw my reflection in the window. He turned, his demeanor softened and I received one of his rare and dazzling smiles.
“Dan! Good to see you. You’ve been on my mind. I was having dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago when that truck sped up to the sidewalk and scared you. Awful!” As I spoke, Dan looked puzzled.
I continued, “You know…when the hamburger and chips you were carrying went flying all over the sidewalk.”
“Oh… Yah… I have carpal tunnel in both arms and sometimes they jerk unexpectedly on me,” he said.
“You mean that guy in the truck didn’t startle you?”
“Oh no. It was my arm that caused me to drop the food. In fact, he wanted to help. I told him no. I was embarrassed.”
“Did we ever conjure the wrong story! We thought that insensitive lout should have bought you another hamburger. I was worried that you would be starving…” I didn’t add that we had seen him eating what he picked up off the sidewalk. Or, that the box and fries were still on the sidewalk at the time we left.
Dan said, “I’d ordered three deluxe burgers. The one I dropped was for someone hurrying to catch a ferry who was also hungry. The restaurant rushed it for me. I told them I’d be back for the other two. After I dropped it, I had to tell my friend he had to go without eating. I felt especially shitty since I still had two.”
“You went back…?”
“Yah, I picked the two up and paid for all three. With no lunch that day, I was super hungry. So I ate one while I cleaned up the mess. Believe me, I still had room for the second one,” he grinned. “I ate it while sitting outside on a spare chair where I could enjoy the live music.” I hoped his grin signified his delight over anger well managed.
More than one mess happened that day. The mess created by our assumptions was a microcosmic example of how easy it is to create more serious messes.
From water to world politics and on to the stars,
seeing does not guarantee we have the facts.
One single water molecule. H₂O
What assumptions do you perpetuate about water?
“Since childhood I’ve heard it’s possible to look up from the bottom of a well and see stars, even in daylight. Aristotle wrote about this, and so did Charles Dickens. On many a dark night the vision of that round slip of sky with stars has comforted me. Here’s the only problem: It’s not true. Western civilization was in no great hurry to give up this folklore; astronomers believed it for centuries, but a few of them eventually thought to test it and had their illusions dashed by simple observation…
…On my desk, a glass of water has caught the afternoon light, and I’m still looking for wonders. Who owns this water?…
…It is the gold standard of biological currency, and the good news is that we can conserve it in countless ways…
…We’d be wise to fix our sights on some new stars…”