It had been an interesting weekend. The Lovely Lady’s parents had decided to take a trip across our state to visit her aunt and uncle in Memphis. The invitation seemed to be more of a summons, but since I was still doing my best to raise my esteem in the eyes of my mother-in-law, accepting it seemed to be the judicious choice. We packed a bag and rode along. In retrospect, they may have thought that they were on trial just as much as I. Regardless, we all learned a bit about each other, living in close quarters for a little over two days.
I was twenty-one years old and would have told you that I couldn’t care less what they thought of me. It wasn’t true. I have admitted before to those of you who follow this blog that I struggle with needing the approval of people around me. That trait was not any less in evidence thirty-five years ago than it is today. The fact that I wasn’t the first young man that my mother-in-law would have picked as a life partner for her daughter wasn’t lost on me, although the words had never been said. Then. Years later, with tears in her eyes, she would admit that she never understood what the Lovely Lady saw in “that brown-haired boy”. I’m happy to say that they were tears of repentance, as she openly admitted that she had been mistaken.
But, that would be many years in the future. On this weekend, it seemed that I was doomed to walk under a cloud all of my life. I was trying too hard, and as usual, it led to a complete failure to impress. The memory of details have faded, so obviously, it was a weekend to forget. One event from the trip sticks out in my mind, though.
We had said our goodbyes in Memphis and headed back across eastern Arkansas. Mid-afternoon, realizing that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we found a buffet just off the Interstate at which to stop and dine. Looking at the offerings on the steam table as we entered, I was excited to see that they actually had steak and onions as one of the entrees. I should have looked at the menu on the wall instead. I love steak and onions, so I ignored the fried chicken, and the grilled pork chops, passing just as quickly on the fried catfish. “I’ll take a serving of that,” said I, pointing at the pan down the way a bit. The young lady behind the counter smiled and served up the biggest individual portion in the pan onto my plate. I headed to my seat and after we had prayed together, I launched into the appetizing dish.
Under the steak knife, the meat felt a bit different than I had expected. It was a little spongier, perhaps even a little too tender. No matter. Arranging a tidbit of onion on top of the meat with the knife, I raised the first bite to my mouth. I should have noticed the aroma wafting on up to my nose, but I was oblivious to anything but the thought of that delicious steak. The instant the morsel hit the taste buds on my tongue, though, I reacted almost instinctively. “Blech!” I almost shouted it. Liver! It wasn’t steak at all, but liver! I hated liver! The other people at the table stared at me. “What’s wrong?” asked my father-in-law, worried that the food was bad. I do have rare moments of being quick on my feet and fortunately, this was one of them. The thought that ran through my head was how hard I had been trying to impress them all weekend. Wouldn’t that be the crowning touch, for me to show them how fussy I was about what I would eat? “Oh. I think there must have been a bad spot in that onion. It’s fine. Really good.” I choked the words out, as I also choked down the bite of liver. I spent the rest of the meal in agony. Bite by bite, along with many drinks of tea and a few rolls to mask the taste, I managed to force down the lion’s share of the horrid, stinking dish. I’m not sure they were as impressed as I wanted them to be.
It was many years in the past. I have learned much about being a son-in-law along the way, although that particular skill is no longer necessary in my case. I also have eaten many dishes I did not love since then. The funny thing is that some of them have grown on me. Just not liver.
“And, what am I…chopped liver?” The question is asked occasionally of someone who is talking about an ideal they have in mind. The person beside them takes offense at the slight, however unintended. The question made perfect sense to me that day. I wanted steak. I got liver. As I think back, I can’t help but feel for my poor in-laws who also wanted steak for their daughter, but got…liver. Oh, time changed their appraisal, but at that time, all they saw was this kid with hair longer than their daughter’s, and not many obvious redeeming qualities. They had been anxiously awaiting steak all those years, and she chose the liver. Or, so it must have seemed to them. And, for a time, although they never made the comparisons at all, the question loomed large in my mind as I imagined their disappointment. “What am I…chopped liver?”
May I talk for just a moment about the principle of significance? We all, every one of us, need to feel that we are important, even essential, to someone. The principle holds throughout society, regardless of social status or financial condition. Significance is the reason that street gangs form, the reason that social clubs are started, even the reason that we have so many churches in almost every town in this country. Yes, even the more spiritually-minded among us want to be important, to have their own opinion and talents valued. When they get tired of beating their heads against the brick wall of church hierarchy, they walk away and start their own fellowship, usually insuring that they are significant within the new hierarchy. Nobody wants to be a nobody. But, that leads to another concept I believe is important.
Nobody should be a nobody. Does that mean that everybody gets to be the most valuable player? Should everybody get a trophy, even though they didn’t win? That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that it’s time to stop making comparisons; of human beings, at least. Comparisons diminish one of the parties under discussion. There is a desirable and an undesirable element in every comparison. Steak – liver. Prince – pauper. Rich – poor. All have an ideal, opposed by a flawed, choice. It is impossible to make the comparison without denigrating the inferior choice. People shouldn’t be presented as inferior and unattractive.
It is a situation that should be detestable to we who claim to follow Jesus. The Apostle makes that clear in his assertion that all the parts of the body are absolutely essential, albeit not as visible (e.g., foot & hand, ear & eye). He concludes his metaphorical statement by reminding us that if one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers as well. So it is with us in our communities. Our comparisons, our claims to superiority, cause harm to us, as well as to those against whom we make the claims.
I am grateful for friends who have been there for me in spite of my obvious deficiencies. The Lovely Lady has never compared me to her father, or a former boyfriend, but loves me for who I am. When we refrain from comparisons and make the people in our lives understand how important they are to us, the results will be surprising. I’m remembering an old television commercial for Imperial Margarine. The person in the ad eats a bite of the product, and instantly, a crown appears on their head and they hear a royal trumpet flourish. “Taste fit for a king,” the ads bragged. Every person, regardless of who they were, experienced the regal treatment (and the surprise at getting the royal treatment). I kind of like the idea.
And, if indeed, it’s “taste fit for a king” we’re going after, I’m pretty sure that liver isn’t on the menu.
“Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.”
(“Debate Between the Horse, Goose, and Sheep”~John Lydgate~English monk/poet~1370-1451)
“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
(I Corinthians 12:26~NASV)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.