22 August 2010

Cookie Insights

Well, it is Sunday evening, not long before my bed time. I've taken part in worship, finished the last volume of Gary Dorrien's trilogy on the History of Liberal Theology in America, driven to East Lansing and back, picked a dozen tomatoes, taken out the recycling, and read most of the Sunday Times.

(That sounds like more than it felt like. I might feel better about my productivity if I made more lists!)

Anyway, my splendid spouse made up a batch of cookies just a while ago, from some refrigerated dough that has been lingering about. They came to twelve. Three of us are home.

All these facts are part of the shameful insight I had not ten minutes ago, which is prompting this post.

She, lovely woman in every sense, brought a small plate of cookies into my office to announce their availability. I thought they were for me, but she was carrying hers. Mine were still on the tray.

Same number, but distinctly smaller. That I noticed bothers me, that I care shames me. Where did this come from?

I know too well. As one of four children, the parceling of sweetmeats was fraught. In my childish mind, febrile with longing for whatever treat was in store, who had the larger portion was the favored child. Needless to say, mother and father were scrupulous in being fair. But "one cuts, the other chooses" does not satisfy the underlying problem. The mere fact of having to share the gustatory prize was what I found hard to swallow.

Every two years after I was born another child came home, and with each my horde of blessings was diluted. The juvenile zero sum game ran like an adding machine in my head. My net worth rose and sank according to the measure of cookies, cake, bed time privileges, and other measures of approval.

Though I have been out of my parent's home for forty years now, more than 2/3 of my life in fact, that childish imprimatur of value has never completely vanished. Nowadays I do not act on such puerile feelings, but they are still there.

Am I alone? Probably not. Truly, I am more neurotic than most, but is that because I still want the bigger cookies or because I am aware that I do and worry about it? (Just posing that question proves how neurotic I am. What can I say, it's a gift.) That we kids elbowed for the marginally bigger slice or portion tells me that at least they shared some notion of competing for the prize. That people seek fancy cars and large houses and other tokens of success tells me I am more typical than exceptional.

My point, though, is not how childish we all are but that if Socrates is right about the unexamined life being not worth living, we need to realize that the examined life does not consist of the serene contemplation of great thoughts. It is being ready to feel like a toddler, notice your the inner brat, stay in touch with all the now outgrown bits of the soul we formed in the messy world of childhood.

Like the appendix in our gut, they have no role to play in adult life, but if they get inflamed (by cookies or whatever might set you off) they can start a nasty spiritual infection.

Glad I nipped that one in the bud. Besides, my inner adult says, I can always buy more cookies!

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