There is a scene in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover where, in order to hide from the bad guy (the Thief), the Cook hides the Wife and her Lover inside a meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week. A meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week with the engine turned off. A meat truck that has been parked behind his restaurant for a week with the engine turned off and no working refrigeration. It is, quite frankly, a horrifying scene, one of those scenes that make you glad that Smell-O-Vision never really caught on. It is also a scene that, unfortunately, I got to experience first hand just this last week.
Well, I didn’t get to experience the part with the Thief. Or his Wife and her Lover. But I am a Cook, and I did have a vehicle full of rotting meat parked in front of my house. Unlike the Cook in the movie, however, I was blissfully ignorant the whole time. Or, at least I was, until I opened my car door and got in.
Here’s what happened. I went to the store. I came home from the store. I asked my son, Clyde, to pause his game long enough to bring in the groceries and put them away. You can guess the rest, although it might help to know that in the summer I drive my car as little as possible, and so my car sat in front of my house, in the sun, for two whole days before I finally got in and noticed that something smelled very wrong not only in Denmark but in all other places as well.
When I (rightfully so, I felt) chastised Clyde about his lapse in, well, everything his reaction was much less apologetic than I had hoped for. In fact, it was decidedly none apologetic. His exact words were, “It’s not like I did it on purpose.”
After I had finished goggling at him for that statement I managed to sputter out that I knew he hadn’t done it on purpose, that if I had suspected for a moment that he had done it on purpose I would be on the phone right now, trying to to have him committed, and that the point wasn’t whether or not he had done it on purpose but whether or not he had tried not to do it. On purpose.
He just responded by looking at me blankly. And sulking when I told him that no, we would not be having tacos tonight after all. I responded by sighing, and by trying to explain again what I had meant.
If we were even a slightly spiritual family I would have talked to Clyde about the importance of mindfulness, the importance of being present in every moment, how vital it is to Be Here Now. I would have talked about how doing good is a conscious choice; how it is more than “not being bad,” but rather the act of consciously living a life of good. Instead, I repeated what I had said before, but added in that living your life is like driving a car—just because you take your hands off of the wheel doesn’t make you any less responsible for where the car goes.
He, of course, muttered something about why I have to make such a big deal about everything, but as he stormed away I think I caught a spark of recognition there, and left it at that. It hasn’t come easily to me, but finally, after nearly two decades of parenting, I can let go of the need to have them crouch at my feet and offer up, “You were right, I was wrong.”
But we still didn’t have tacos that night.