Columnists > Soul Food

A slice of heaven

Learning to put away the selfishness that can infect us

Issue: "Missionary hostages," Feb. 20, 1998

It was morning. I resent morning; I think it's a cosmic cruel joke to have to start the day with all your work still ahead of you. And looking like the dickens.... And it wasn't just any morning-it was a morning in January. January, the season of chicken pox and science fairs.

The kids' lunches weren't made, either. To make a lunch before breakfast is a grim task. At 7:00 in the morning, it's hard for me to believe any of us will make it to lunchtime. Besides, imagining what might be appetizing at noon is like asking a four-year-old to plan his honeymoon.

I was also up against a recent trend of imperiousness in my daughter. Nothing I did was right. The night before, she had referred to me as her "immediate family." I was clearly lucky to be included, given that I was too stupid to help her with her homework, plan her wardrobe, or advise her on her cheerleading routine, though this didn't stop her from interrupting me during a phone conversation to ask anyway.

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I wearily faced the cabinet, which held what is humorously called our lunch supplies. An array of foods greeted me: prunes, which I had already solemnly vowed I would never put in any child's lunch; a crushed packet of crackers; numerous sleeves of honey, salt, and soy sauce; dried soup mix; and 58 tubs of pudding with a shelf life longer than that of a government savings bond. It didn't matter what I put in. It couldn't compete with the pizza in the school cafeteria. But I finally assembled a nice sandwich, fruit, and a drink, feeling put upon. I was overqualified for this job. I deserved to be doing earthshaking things that would reveal me to be the talented and important person I am.

We raced to school-for some odd reason we were late. She began checking on me, which I dislike. (I, of course, check on her, but that's different. I'm her mother.) "Did you put the two dollars for the field trip in my backpack?"

(Bristling:) "Yes."

"Are you gonna get a posterboard for my science fair project?"

(Grinding my teeth:) "This morning."

"What kind of fruit did you put in my lunch?"

(I had her on this-I knew she'd like it:) "A half an apple."

"How did you slice it?"

This was the last straw-how did I slice it?

I took a deep breath and said, "I cut it from top to bottom, through the stem." ("You got a problem with that?" I muttered to myself.)

"That's too bad," she said. "You could have had a slice of heaven."

I frowned. "A slice of heaven?" I repeated.

"Yeah. If you cut it across, horizontally, you see the seeds, and it makes a little star shape. I call it a slice of heaven. But that's okay."

As I drove away from her school, I knew she was right: I had missed a slice of heaven, but not just in the form of a few apple seeds. I had missed the chance to nurture my family kindly, cheerfully, and freely. I had missed appreciating the little jewels buried in places we won't see if we won't seek. When I do seek them, we all have a slice of heaven.

I know this is true. One night I was rocking my little son. I had rocked him many miles in his three years, through fevers and naptimes, through sweet songs and nightmare wakings. He looked up at me and asked, "Mommy, will there be toys in heaven?"

I sighed and said, "Well, whatever you need to be happy in heaven, it will be there." He thought about that for a moment and said, "Will you bring your rocking chair?"

I know my children won't need my rocking chair in heaven. But in this life, I can promise to try to put aside the corrosive selfishness that can take heaven away from any family. I will try to act as God wants me to act. I will cut our apples right through the middle. And I will keep my rocking chair.


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