Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lying to Your Waitress

    I was presented with a problem. I was trying to eat a pasta dish I had ordered and enjoyed many times before, but this time, it was drowning in sauce. There was far too much pesto on my plate for the amount of noodles that were there. A big green mess. But the problem wasn't just the drowning pasta. It was the dilemma that it presented to me. Do I or do I not complain to the waitress? One might think that the answer should have been an automatic, "Yes! Do complain!" But I've given it great thought and can draw from experience, and the best answer to this dilemma is to lie to the waitress. Let me explain.

    For one, I've considered the fact that we are a society that asks courtesy questions with no meaning behind them. Take it out of the restaurant setting and think of Walmart. As we go through the checkout, we are almost always asked, "Did you find everything ok?" Even if I say, "No I did not find everything ok. I looked at your pasta selection and it was pathetic. I can't buy milk here because it tastes like plastic. I couldn't find that weird brand of soda my dad likes," what are they really going to do? "STOP! This woman cannot find her dad's favorite brand of soda!" And even if they did, I don't want to stand there while they try to find what I couldn't find. I want to leave. If they don't do a frantic search, do they just give you an awkward, "Sorry," while looking down awkwardly when you say you did not, in fact, find everything ok? I've thought ahead and it doesn't look good.

    I've also thought ahead when it comes to these sort of courtesy questions at restaurants. "How is everything tasting?" "Is everything delicious?" Often what the waitress really wants is a quick question and a quick answer to fulfill the duties of her job. It's asked in a quick brisk by the table. It's also what I want most of the time. Leave me alone, and let me eat.  So what is a disgruntled diner to do?

    Now I'm not talking about a hair, or something incredibly undercooked. You have to say something then. Aside from potentially dangerous, unsanitary situations, all other food problems at restaurants are a matter of taste and can be broken down into two categories: the solvable food problem versus the unsolvable food problem. Be bold with your solvable food problems. Your salad could use a little more dressing, ask for it. You want a little more bread, tell them. You think those dry potatoes would be nicer with a side of sour cream, go for it. 

    But it's the difficult to unsolvable food problems that make me nervous. They are the ones that make me a liar. If it was well cooked, but you realize that it's not something you personally like, it's your fault for choosing that dish, not the restaurant's. If it's not cooked well, but it's not egregiously bad, you look picky, and they make a fuss, and you might have to sit and wait while they make more food for you. Even if the food is bad. What will they do? One time I had biscuits that tasted like weird cake. I look ahead. What's the waiter going to do? Tell the kitchen to bring me some biscuits that don't taste like weird cake? I suppose they could have brought me different food, or given me a refund. It was more appealing to suffer in silence than to suffer through the awkwardness of the apologies, of trying to explain what I didn't like, and the fuss that they would make.  

  And believe me. It can be terrible when they make a fuss. I must refer to what my family calls The Great White Bean Debacle of 2009. First of all, be careful who you tell about your dissatisfaction with, or confusion about your food, because your fellow diner may not believe that you don't care, and will want to defend you. This is what happened with me and my dad in The Great White Bean Debacle when my parents and I went out to eat one evening.

    My parents ordered gumbo. I ordered white bean chili. My white bean chili looked and even somewhat tasted suspiciously like their gumbo. I searched my bowl for white beans. I wondered if the restaurant had made a mistake. I didn't feel too uncomfortable asking the waitress about my food at first, but her answers weren't satisfying somehow. I was still confused and told my parents as such, but I was going to let it go. The terrible thing was that my dad, who wanted his daughter to be entirely happy with her food, did not let it go, and brought it up for me to the waitress. I was then put in the awkward spot of having to defend and explain this confusion about beans that even I didn't understand. Now that I look back, I think the confusion had to do with the fact that the beans were puréed and the flavors were just similar to those in my parents gumbo. The details to all of this are fuzzy, but I don't think I will ever forget how it all ended. After profuse apologies, a small bowl of plain cooked white beans was brought to the table. I was very embarrassed. Even worse, none of it was worth it. I liked my food.

    And so now we are faced with the original dilemma: pasta with too much pesto. Drowned noodles. Too little sauce seems simple and unembarrassing enough to bring up, like having an extra side of dressing for your salad. But this? Bring me a little bowl of bare penne to dump on my plate? Too close to the bean memory for comfort. 

    If you are asked how your food is, and you don't want to deal with it, you have three options.

1. Lie: Say, "It's good."

2. Pick a tactful truth-like answer: Answer, "Fine," "Pretty good," or even "Good," for not terrible food (hey, you didn't say it was great or delicious).

3. My favorite: Say nothing and let the answer come from your eating companion who's actually enjoying her food. "Good," she says, smiling. It's on the waitress for assuming that you are also happy. You didn't say it was good, and so you didn't lie. In this case, one must ignore the concept of the lie of omission. 

    Or you (and I...) could be brave enough to tell the truth. But don't blame me if they bring you a little dish of cooked white beans to your table. 

Sitting in the Dark

(I wrote this on September 12, 2013. Because this is a reflection of how I felt as I was writing, I felt odd editing it, because even a short amount a time produces different feelings, however subtle, than what's here. I wanted to keep the integrity of what I wrote, so the changes have been minor. I also changed the title.)


     Right now I'm in the middle of troubling times in my life. I have tried to keep my eyes open to what God might be doing to reverse them and to what he has wanted me to learn from this downward trajectory. I have tried to find patterns in how it will all work out, why it is happening, and what issues God is trying to have me work through. In short, I have tried to find meaning in my problems. I have hoped that there is some purpose in them. But the more they go on, the harder it is for me to find meaning.

     Not all the meaning is gone. There have been several moments during this time where God has revealed, or made clearer truths that I've needed to face about myself. I see where he has been rooting out the ugly in me, and where he has been freeing me from deception in how I see him, and how I see myself. There have been more occasions during this time where my family has experienced the presence of God, in one way or another, than we have had in a long time. 

     But now as the troubles continue, and as it has become harder to live out the truths that have been revealed to me, it's become very easy for me to feel discouraged and even, let down by God. I thought that the inner changes would correspond to outward changes. I thought I saw how God was moving in my life. I thought, to be blunt, that my faith would pay off. I thought that all this growth would be rewarded with my deliverance from my problems, but it hasn't. They keep going, and I don't  see, borrowing a great surprise, anything changing soon. 

     Instead I feel as if I was just trying to read the tea leaves. Rather than God ordained revelation, I feel like I possibly saw signs that weren't there, and created narratives for my life that didn't exist. As my problems have extended past my own predicted due dates, I feel like I was wrong, and I am tempted to say that there was no meaning in them at all, because that's how it feels. I feel like life has just happened to me, and there is no greater purpose in it. 

     But I know better than that. It's not as if my family hasn't ever sensed God's being with us during this period. And even more, I must hang on to the promise that everything works out for good for those who love God (although my mind is tempted to wonder if there's a theological or exegetical loophole to that). I must hang on to the belief that God is sovereign. 

     One of the biggest strongholds in my life is the temptation to doubt God's goodness and his love for me. Putting it straightforward like that sounds odd, because I wouldn't deny it in a straightforward manner. But I have realized (especially during this period) that the way I think about God and interact with him implies such beliefs. So right now, when I have a hard time seeing any meaning in my situation, I feel like God's just letting things happen to me. I don't feel like he has a hold of my life. I feel like he's not involved. I have a hard time trusting him. Part of me doubts that he has my best interest at heart. 

     I have to believe that even when things don't make sense, he does, in fact, have my best interest at heart. Maybe my attempts to find meaning are a way of trying to keep control over my life. Maybe what I feel God to be doing is just taking longer than I thought. 

     The platitudes go off in my head: "let go and let God," "God's timing is not our timing." That's all well and good, but sitting in the middle of all this, it is harder than I thought to live out what I said I believed about God. I thought I had passed the test. I thought I had passed and I was about to come out of this mess. That's how I saw it. Instead, I am being put to an even greater test, one where I can't read the tea leaves and see the resolution. I sit in the dark, and wait on God. 

It's Ok to Forget

    Most people would have taken a glance at their pile of old papers from school and thrown them away. But for me, piles of old papers are my weakness. I used to keep far too many of them. Now I keep only a little too many. 

     I throw away more than I keep, but I give most of them one last look over before heading for the trash. One last chance to spark my interest or convince me of their value. Most fail to make a good case for themselves, and have to leave. It's a process that's simultaneously enjoyable and unenjoyable. I enjoy looking things over before I finally decide I'm through with them. They provide a small memory, some amusement as I see a funny doodle on the margins, or some satisfaction knowing I got a 98% on a test. 

     What's unenjoyable is the nagging feeling that caused me to keep so many of them in the first place. The fear that once the memento is gone, the memory will be gone too. I don't know why I feel sad about the possibility of forgetting what grade I got on some test in one of many classes I took in Jr. college. I suppose I don't feel sad -too strong of a word- or I wouldn't throw it away. I know that only so many memories should be rewarded with room and board. There's only so much space in my head. 

     But I feel uncomfortable throwing them away; throwing away their guarantee of remembrance no matter how insignificant. And I feel pressured to decide their fate when they don't fit neatly into the stay or go categories. What if I make a mistake? Somehow I don't like that there are large chunks of my life that pass by, and fade away unnoticed. I lived through something, put effort into it, and that thing had a little meaning to me at the time. And now I throw it away. 

     I can throw most of it away now because I've gained some perspective I guess. I think of all the good memories, especially from when I was fairly young, that have no direct mementos. They mean more to me than a paper I wrote in a class, in a school I didn't totally care for, and they're gone. I also feel burdened by the clutter of memories. Part of me wants to be free, to not feel attached. Because their meaning isn't very great (the papers or the memories), they only serve to weigh me down, and in their own way, rob me of the present. So I let them go, and feel better for having done so than if I had kept them. 

     I used to think memories were worth keeping for the sake of being memories, for the sake of there being a record of a certain portion of your life, and so I have many papers to serve as protectors of those memories. But now I'm willing to let a lot of them go. I suppose most, if not all of the ones you keep should remind you of people and places you loved, or particularly enjoyed, and of achievements that are still important to you. And even then, the best memories don't need mementos to be enjoyed and remembered. I'm learning that not all memories are equal. And as contrary as it is to my nature, I'm learning that it's ok to forget.