Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rarely Only What They Seem

This morning for breakfast I ate a plum. Normally I would hold it in my hand, and take bites out of  it till it's gone and throw away the seed without a thought. But for some reason, this time, I sliced it into a green glass bowl and ate it slowly with a fork. The skin was purple and slightly bitter. I thought all plums were red or purple throughout, but this one was golden on the inside and sweet and cold.

We think of watermelons as red, but they are green on the outside. We think of apples as red, but they are white on the inside. We think of bananas as yellow, but they are pale on the inside. We think of orange peel as orange, but it is white on the inside. And so on.

A few years ago I was having dinner at an Italian restaurant. A young, plain-looking woman without makeup, hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and dressed quite modestly, approached the table next to ours and began singing opera, beautifully. Everyone in the room fell silent, all eyes on her, caught in the magic of this unexpected moment. I remember thinking this person looked so ordinary. She didn't look like she could sing like that.

What? How easily we sometimes dismiss others. We never know about the stranger standing in front of us in line at the grocery store or sitting in the car next to us while stopped at a traffic light -- his talent, her abilities, his burdens, her struggles. A singer, a poet, a marksman, a water colorist, a person who speaks 5 languages, someone whose mother is dying, someone whose child won a scholarship, or has a loved one addicted to cocaine. Everybody has a story.

People, and things, are rarely only what they seem.

Just as this poem is not only about an old woman eating a plum.

To a Poor Old Woman

by William Carlos Williams

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

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