Would you eat an orange?

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When I was a child, I was taught not to eat candy or any kind of food for that matter, given to me by strangers. It was in the wake of the Halloween candy cyanide craziness–my mother took me aside and was all, “Don’t eat anything anyone gives you! Unless it’s from Mommy!” (She liked to refer to herself in the third person–one of those direct Korean translation thingies). In fact, that year, we went trick or treating, and then we had to turn in the entire bag of candy to our parents, who then went out and gave us an equal amount of candy they personally bought from the store.

So the other night, when I stared at this tangerine, I was very conflicted.  (And there was no mommy around to exchange this tangerine for a “safe” tangerine, either).

I caught a taxi and got in–immediately, the cab driver handed me a tangerine. “Here,” he pushed it to me with the familiarity and hospitality a friend or family member would extend if you walked into their car and they happened also be eating tangerines. The taxi was perfumed with the scent of oranges, a very fresh citrus haven in the winter chill.

“Oh!” Thank you I said, and not knowing what to do with this fruit, GIVEN TO ME BY A STRANGER, I said I would eat it later. (ie., “Thank you! I think I will eat this later!”)

Before I could finish saying the whole sentence, he thrust two paper towels at me. OMG, a taxi driver after my own OCD heart. (btw, speaking of OCD, I want to gloat and announce that CNN has a link that says double dipping really does spread bacteria! STOP the double dipping!)

I put the tangerine and paper towels into my purse and quietly played with my crackberry, pondering what to do. I eyed the whole gift with suspicion. Was he trying to poison me? What was the meaning of this? I tried to look closely at the ID card, but I was on the right side of the car, and the ID card was on the left. I made out the taxi number, and text messaged my husband, telling him I’d just been given a tangerine by a cabbie and if I keeled over, the taxi number was —-.

He made eye contact with me once. There was no malice. He dropped me off in front of the restaurant where I would be having dinner with Susan.

“Thank you for the orange and very good night!” I told him as I left the cab.

“No problem–anytime!” He was as cheerful as ever.

At dinner, I shared the tangerine story with Susan.

“Do you have it?” she asked.

I dug it out of my purse, where it was wrapped in the white paper towels. I held the orange fruit aloft.

“It looks fine!” she said. “It’s a simple and random act of kindness!”

I felt guilty for suspecting an act of kindness–but found it so hard to let go of my own comfort zone. Dare I eat this orange? Dare I? I really did want it. And I wanted to honor the act of kindness.

At the John Irving talk, comforted by this possibility of kindness, comforted by the fact that I’d texted my husband the taxi number (should there be a tragedy), and also comforted by the fact that we were surrounded by thousands of people who would call 911 should we hit the floor in spasms, I peeled the tangerine.

Mrmmm. It was so good.

A friend of mine, once told about this orange, exclaimed, “A lunar year orange! Good luck!” The cabbie was not Asian, but I was struck by another observation of this orange as a positive act. And given that I am still alive, I am glad I took this gift.

Thank you to Susan for convincing me it was all right, to look past my own suspicions! It is a sad thing that such an act could be suspect.

Later, the next day, I was at a writing exercises panel. One of the speakers talked about how he liked to have his students write about a “gift of grace.” He named dramatic examples of what the students wrote–for instance, one of his students who had CP: She was born in Korea and once discovered as having CP, was put in a box and abandoned as a baby. A family walked by and discovered her. That was a gift of grace. Then she ended up being adopted by a family in America. Gift grace number two.

I was not abandoned in a box and found, but I was given a tangerine and I ate it. I was able to get past my suspicions and see the gift clearly.

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11 Comments

Filed under Inspiring, Life, Travel, Writing

11 responses to “Would you eat an orange?

  1. Ha, Jade, that orange was one of the most delicious ones I’ve ever eaten. And see, we’re both still alive! You CAN get random gifts from taxi drivers. What a cool world!

  2. sottovoco

    I really like your voice. I can taste the orange.

  3. Wonderful story 🙂

    I admit I would have been suspicious and needed much convincing to eat it. I don’t trust any random acts of kindness on the streets (or in taxis) anymore. Now I feel silly!

  4. I really like your voice too.

  5. Susan: wasn’t it truly delicious? that little orange renewed a little of my faith.

    Elisabeth: thank you!

    sottovoco: thank you for the compliment–my “voice” as a writer is something I often struggle with. glad to hear it “works” here on the blog.

    nova: in general, I think it is a good thing to exercise caution! believe me, I ended up being heavily convinced to eat this orange.

    harmonie22: thank you! I’m going to have to examine my voice here and try to distill it for other writings.

  6. Yeah, I would have eaten the orange, maybe, in Korea, but not in North America. And even here I’d have been suspicious.

    The thing that struck me in this post was the student with CP. Yeah, see, I wish that person with CP would come here and talk to young people — college, high school, or middle school students — about her experiences: about being put in a box, and abandoned, for having CP. For how being adopted by Americans was a gift to her, not a bad thing. Because many of the young people I know have this attitude like, even if Koreans are so unwilling to adopt even healthy Korean kids, it’s bad somehow when those kids get adopted by Westerners… apparently because they’re thereby deracinated by the experience of growing up with (usually) white people.

    And yeah, I’m sure it’s weird and not easy to grow up with a family of a different race, but hell, it’s preferable to grow up confused by essentially well-off and hopefully loved, that’s far preferable to dying in a box on the street, or rotting in poverty after growing up poor, disadvantaged, socially neglected, and all too often abused in an orphanage in Korea. Only an unthinking idiot (or a race-dogmatist which is the same thing to me) could think that better.

  7. I saw you on Third Eve blog comments. Because I am also Korean (grew up in CA since Elementary school) I decided to check out your blog.

    Your blogs are amazing and the TANGERINE story really speaks volumes about how we don’t trust each other in our society. I am pretty cynical and I have a hard time trusting strangers. So I don’t know if I would have eaten it either.

    I just listened to an NPR interview about a writer who wrote Geographical Bliss. He said that our concept of happiness is linked heavily with how much we’re able to trust people we interact with.

    I’m a little saddened that we have lost trust in our fellow neighbors and I have become so pessimistic.

    Anyways, kudos for you completing your thesis and closing the stroke chapter (how scary!)

    I am inspired by your writing skills and look forward to reading more…

  8. That’s hilarious about texting the cab driver’s number to your husband. There have been times I’ve had editing or tutoring appointments with strange characters and thought about e-mailing the address to my husband in case anything happened to me. And I agree, your blog posts are beautiful, and I always look forward to reading them when I can find the time!

  9. gordsellar: I think even gifts have their flip side–I think also that the overt message is that being adopted by a warm hearted, loving family is truly a gift. I have this feeling that adoptees feel that that “goes without saying” (or at least that’s my impression). But then again, I”m not an adoptee and can’t speak for them.

    But I totally see your point–sometimes in our quest for an ideal, we overlook what is in our hands.

    Lost Girl: Thank you so much! I like your point about how happiness is linked with our ability to trust. I’m going to have to have deep thoughts about that one.

    Bustopher: You are way more trusting than I am! I text my loved ones every piece of information in even slightly precarious situations. I’m just paranoid and fearful–I’m sure the recipients of my emails maybe sprout an odd amused smile and file my email away “just in case, but probably not.”

  10. P.S. I already refer to myself in the third person as “Mommy.” It can’t be helped.

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