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.