the little things that go wrong, are what connect us…make us real to each other.
I am remembering a day, in my late teens: I had invited some friends over and had told them I would make strawberry shortcake, to just come on over to the house, and hang out. It didn’t seem that difficult, I had seen my mom do it and the recipe looked so easy. I tossed the fresh strawberries with some sugar and got busy mixing and baking the shortcake. I put it all together and the moment came to assemble dessert; I handed out dishes and forks, anticipating nothing but delight, mmmm’s, lipsmacking.
Instead, what I heard were strange sounds, coughs, throats clearing, and eventually the giggles.
It, the shortcake, was awful! I had taken a bite by this time and sure enough, it was horrible and resembled something more akin to sawdust cakes than anything.
I was embarrassed, but these people, my friends were so close, so safe, that it was o.k. to be the epicenter of their laughter and teasing. I figured out what I had done wrong, but much too late; so instead we ditched the cake and dove into the strawberries and whip cream and immersed ourselves in conversation. And, yes they kept laughing at me.
The best part of the shortcake however, is that it lives on [and given its consistency, it probably could], to this day; nearly 30 years later. I don’t see those friends often enough, we of course all live in a variety of places – physically, mentally, stages of life, etc. But it takes only the mere mention of the strawberry shortcake in an email, phone conversation, or in the event we get to visit in person, a conversation, that sends us directly to nothing less than a fit of giggles. And a knowing.
If the shortcake had turned out perfectly, we would have never noticed, we would have mmm-ed and hmmm-ed, and smiled and licked our forks and plates and enjoyed the moment. But it would have been just that, only a moment, eclipsed by something else that might have seemed funny, but would likely – and quickly – fade in passing. Instead, because of my mistake, ineptitude, forgetfulness, or whatever, we got instead a memory that stays with us, and in a way, connects us always, with just one word.
With one of my friends I have known since childhood, all I have to do is, in a mocking tone, say ‘shut up I can’t see‘ in a text, email, or message and we are goners, laughing until we pee or cry, or both. It was a day of misdirection and tardy arrivals, and while being silly in the backseat, laughing loudly at my friend’s inability to navigate the directions, my friend yelled at me, and the others, to shut up so he could see where he was going. The backseat drivers thought it was the dumbest thing we had heard, and it set us on a jag of that crazy, uncontrollable, practically crying, belly-aching, gasping laughter. You know the kind, it swells up, consumes you, recedes and then returns in its full force, over and over again.
If he had known his way, been more calm, or if we had been a little more, ahem, mature, we would not have that moment to cherish as part of our story, to have to be able to return to periodically, and reach out to hold a moment of our youth, our history, something that makes us, well, an us. It places us somewhere.
When my son was about to turn three, he fell down on his face a few days before his birthday and bumped himself up pretty good; resulting in a big giant fat lip, which of course ballooned just in time for his birthday, when the camera comes out in full force. My husband was irritated by the poor timing, lamenting how this would look, and I remember just putting a hand on his arm and saying, ‘but these are the moments we remember. this will be ‘the year of the fat lip’ .”
If things were perfect, I would not have the photos I love from that day, my little boy with the big lip. That is what I remember from that birthday, not the fun but temporary cake, nor the toys or the party favors, but the face with the puffy lip and the reality that my little one was getting used to his own body and all that his growing pains brought.
When we allow ourselves to enter into these moments of awkwardness, apparent failure, stumbling, falling down, they can be, if we allow them, sources of what binds us to one another. These moments, if seen as a window to the truth of another, can help us realize that we are in fact all the same; imperfect. On the outside we might look different, but on the inside is it too much to imagine that we all might have some degree of self-doubt, perhaps a level of questioning around our worth, or possibly even our own worthiness; that maybe we all wonder how much we should expose to another and how soon? And when we see that in another, in a perfect, open moment where we know that we are not the only one who stumbles, falls down, or screws up the shortcake, is when we know we are not alone, when we realize it’s safe to pull back another corner of our quirky selves.
It is something to consider, the extent to which we go, to present perfect selves to the world around us, to our friends, our neighbors, with the intent of impressing, not burdening, or out doing. It’s the mess of it all where we truly see each other.
When I see someone and their eyes do not crinkle with a little bit of life’s twinkle around the edges, I feel that I must suck it in, both literally and figuratively – for how can I relax and show my true shortcake self to this person? When we see someone express a little doubt, reveal that they are scared, that their life is not all picket fences, we can exhale and know that we are truly ok.
And at the end of the day, is it not something we all strive for, and seek? A place where we know we have a spot with our names etched, where we know we are loved, even when the shortcake tastes likes sawdust, and perhaps loved even a little bit more?