Happy Holidays!

Or – the Importance of Lettuce

Ha! You may think that this is a weird title. Well, it is. But it’s also a very important part of my life. One of the places that I forgot to mention that I visited in 1976 was India. I was there for a whole month because the borders were closed. No one could come in or get out until the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, reopened them.

There was a drought in northern India. Even the goats were having a hard time finding stuff to nibble on. Of course, cows were skin and bones – and holy creatures. The only liquid to be had was a lassi, which was very good, but it wasn’t water. There are a number of stories from just this one month of my life, but I’m going to talk about lettuce.

Of course, there was no lettuce. That is the point. There was very little green in the landscape or streetscape. And yet, it wasn’t a desert. Calcutta was a bustling city. That is, there were refugees from Bangladesh living side by side on the streets and sidewalks. There were horrible sights too, babies with no hands or babies with no feet, men with deep yellow jaundiced eyes, children with only one arm and many other unforgiving images that are burned into my memory.

The Sri Lankan Buddhist monks warned me to keep any food that I may have hidden away from the people on the street. They would beg, they would steal, they would overwhelm me until I was stripped of anything useful to life. I would become one of them instead of a person who might be able to help them.

It seemed contrary to reason, not to give, but to keep in order to give. Meanwhile, all I could think of was a head of iceberg lettuce, juicy, light green, crisp and cool, sitting in a refrigerator, on a kitchen counter, in the produce section of a well lit supermarket. It was silly, and so foreign to the young faces that I encountered on the streets. Those big brown eyes stared at me with chapped lips and I couldn’t say ‘no.’ I tried opening my backpack a little, and I was nearly overcome by a swarm of children who came from everywhere. I immediately zipped up the backpack and shook my head ‘no.’ I felt terrible as they looked at me with nothing behind their eyes but the will to live.

And then, someone shouted. One after another they started toward what I finally saw as a fire hydrant that had been knocked over by something. There was brown water slowly bubbling out of the hole where the hydrant had been. And then I heard laughter. Children were playing in that small fountain, no more than two or three inches in height. They kicked the muddy water up and at each other. More sounds of laughter, giggles, small shrieks of fun. They were children, not hungry ghosts. They were playing. They were happy. At that moment they needed nothing else in the world.

I laughed too. In that moment, I promised myself that if I ever got to have lettuce again, I wouldn’t waste a leaf of it. It was all good things combined into the sound of children laughing and having fun. And lettuce, for me, brings that all to mind.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday season.