When I was a kid, I ate everything set in front of me. Spinach. Liver and onions. Meatloaf. Lima and wax beans. Brussel sprouts. I ate them all without a complaint. I even liked them.
Alas, my sole nemesis when it came to food – was beets. I just couldn’t seem to stomach them. They tasted like mud with a faint hint of baby formula. It was for this reason, of course, that it also seemed they were part of every meal. As I grew older, hosts would ask me if I liked this food or that, and I would always say the same thing: “I’m easy. I like everything. Except beets.”
Once in college, when I sort of broke up with a girl I sort of wasn’t really even seeing for not quite six weeks, she showed her disapproval in some uniquely memorable ways. During Christmas break, she sent me a crafty little hand-made postcard. On it were glued magazine clippings of a skeletal, starving child and a torn globe with a mushroom cloud coming out of it, drawn in red crayon. A real, dead fly was also attached, squashed and discoloring the paper beneath cellophane tape. Scrawled across the card in black crayon was her message:
I HOPE YOU HAVE A MISERABLE CHRISTMAS! THIS IS THE BEST YOU DESERVE!
I met with another demonstration of her disapproval one morning when I came out to my car to find an industrial-size tin can of generic beets sitting on the hood of my car. The attached note was reminiscent of the Christmas wishes:
THIS IS THE BEST YOU DESERVE!
One might be surprised to learn that the person responsible for these “gifts” was 21. At times, I have to strain to remember her full name. This is due to the fact that I have only ever referred to her since graduating college by the code name “Psycho Chick.”
Eesh. As if childhood weren’t enough to cause a guy to hate beets.
Somewhere along the line, I began to study Russian. And even the most cursory introduction to the culture will make clear that Russians love their borscht – beet soup. Thus, enamored with both the language and the people, I set about the goal of learning to like beets. (Besides, given my personality, I was never really comfortable with letting one little vegetable best me.)
Today, whenever I visit a more extensive salad bar, you will see pickled beets on the plate.
Beets and I have a complicated relationship. But I’ve learned to love them.
Another birthday is fast approaching. This has me thinking again about last year’s birthday, when Chad treated me to dinner. We were both up for an adventure, and so decided to choose a restaurant at random from an app on his iPhone. This landed us at an authentic Nigerian restaurant about 45 minutes away.
We were the only customers.
I talk more about this night in the book, but in short, we asked the genuinely friendly waiter to just surprise us and bring us an array of things he himself would find delicious. Among the delicacies proudly presented to us were bitter greens with tiny pieces of bone shards for seasoning, a whole gelatinized ox hoof – and tripe (please do humor me and click the link).
If you don’t already know, tripe is the stomach or intestinal lining of an animal. In the case of our visit, it was unadorned with spices or sauce. There it sat, in all its sponge-like glory. We each took a bite. Knowing its origins, one will find it no surprise that it tasted like poo. Yet, out of respect for the hospitality and care of our host, we forced ourselves to finish the entire thing. We laughed quietly together as we choked it down, bite by bite, holding our breathe like little kids taking cough syrup.
I did not like tripe. I might even go so far as to say that I hated tripe.
And I loved it.
I loved it because it was a unique experience. It was shared with a close and daring friend. And it is now yet another treasured memory of a chance taken, a reminder that we are alive.
A few days ago, Chad and I had dinner at an Indian restaurant on a whim – one we’ve visited before but which we do not frequent. Our waiter, Burak, was Turkish and had the best voice. He taught us to say “thanks” and “you’re welcome” in his native language. The latter was approximately forty-three syllables long, but we gave it our best shot, much to Burak’s amusement and appreciation.
In addition, to make this particular visit unique, we decided that we would order a smorgasbord of dishes we had never tried (except for the ginger honey nan, for which I’m certain there is an actual rule somewhere stating that it may under no circumstances be passed up).
The bhel puri was addictive. We both agreed that we were doomed from that day forward to be stricken with random cravings for it.
The mango pickle, on the other hand, despite its deceptively enticing name, was … er …
I like to consider myself as having a better-than-fair facility with words. Yet I’m having real difficult coming up with an accurate way to describe the taste of mango pickle. I can only say that, upon chewing the first bite, my left eye began to flutter, then closed and would not open for some time. I didn’t ask Chad, but I’m nearly certain that my facial expression resembled that of a baby who has just squished a rotten grape in his mouth, and yet hasn’t yet the language to express his dismay.
Upon seeing this reaction, Chad did the logical thing. He immediately also took a bite. I love this about Chad. We both agreed that it was the strongest tasting food either of us had ever eaten. In our case, that is saying a lot.
Because of the surrounding experience, I also now have soft spot for mango pickle, despite the taste.
I have this love-hate relationship with many things in my life.
Horseflies are highly annoying. And yet they remind me of beaches and summer and being a kid.
Cigarette smoke smells foul and causes my asthma to flare up. Still I love it, because it reminds me of Brandon and John and other smokers I have loved along the way.
I could go on, naming dozens of things I hate. And love.
Of course, life is filled with many things we may hate more than beets and cigarette smoke. Bills. A dead-end job where we may be overworked and under-appreciated. Family reunions. Abuse in our past. Yet I still believe, if we are willing to face the challenge, that we can find something to love in the things we hate.
Bills signify that I have luxuries most of the world will never enjoy, for instance. In addition, is there a spouse or friend with whom you could make bill paying a sort of date together? That’s ridiculous, you’re thinking. Bill paying can’t just be ‘made fun.’ You really might be surprised just how far optimism and creativity can go toward transforming the drudgeries of life into memorable moments.
But what of abuse? Certainly, we cannot just decide to be happy about past hurts that have been inflicted upon us. No. But I can attest that it is possible to embrace such experiences as part of the wholeness that is you, remembering that the past has no power over you in the present. To be thankful for your unique story and its power to help others along the way, if you are willing. To love who you have become despite your past. Or perhaps because of it.
As with most things, I believe that finding ways to love the things you hate all boils down to perspective.
Perspective and choice.