This I Believe

Linda - Erie, Pennsylvania
Entered on July 10, 2007

When our two kids were toddlers they used to fight over an orange sippy cup. For some reason, juice always tasted sweeter, milk was always more comforting, when it was dispensed from that special container. We had the exact same cup in purple, but that one never held the cachet that the orange one did.

So the screaming would start. “You had it the last time! It’s my turn!” “No it’s not! Give it back!” At moments like that, looking down on their beet-red faces and angry, flashing eyes, I always felt time slow down, and an unsettling distance open up between us, parent and child. Here they were, my healthy, beautiful children, focusing all their precious energy–on a piece of plastic. Mustering the dedicated efficiency of a laser beam, they would take down any obstacle in the way of their goal. Outside, there could be sunrises, sweet bird calls, and white billowing clouds floating across a pure blue sky–but the world’s breathtaking wonders would go by unnoticed, as the fight to win the orange cup heated up. Being a working Mom I was often away from my children for hours or even days at a stretch, but I never felt more painfully separated from them than at times like this, when we stood together in the same room.

The distance between a parent’s perspective and a child’s is a chasm that, as children mature, hopefully melts away. Already, my two darlings, 16 and 14 years old, rarely fight anymore, and routinely share everything from food and money to time and love. My proudest moments have come when I see one of them ‘take a hit’ for the other, giving up something so that their sibling can enjoy it instead.

But memories of the chasm still haunt me. It is a sometimes unbreachable divide that separates our children from us–and us from God. I’ve never met God face to face, but I know he’s a parent, and in my more pessimistic moments I suspect He looks down on us, His toddlers, the way we look down on our own children. Does He feel separated from us by our callow attempts to buy designer clothes, a prestigious car, or a house in an upscale neighborhood? Aren’t these all orange sippy cups to the Almighty? When we fight over who gets to use the world’s oil resources, does God sigh and say, “There they go again! What’s a parent to do?”

If God ever gives in to despair, it wouldn’t surprise me. After thousands of years of recorded history the human family has barely inched toward enlightenment, taking 2 steps back for every 3 forward. It’s enough to try the patience of any parent–even a Heavenly Father whose mercy is supposed to be infinite. Yet we keep ‘going at it,’ competing with each other for some sippy cup, or maybe for special attention from Papa (“He loves me more than he loves you!” “He gave me the keys to his kingdom, not you!”)

Good King Solomon might have recommended I cut that sippy cup in two from top to bottom, and give one useless half to each child. Perhaps children need to learn (the sooner the better) the futility of some arguments. Alternatively I could have bought a second orange sippy cup so that each child could have their own. But that would only have saved the peace long enough for another dispute to arise in its place–perhaps over who gets to sit in the second chair at the dinner table.

I’m glad I never kept that sippy cup. If I had, it would only be moldering away in a little-visited corner of our basement. As it is, I chucked it into the recycling bin. It’s now probably become one corner of a lawn chair, or maybe a small piece of sewage pipe. Quite a karmic tumble for something that was once so prized.

Not that we humans won’t go the same route. We may be infinitely more complex than a sippy cup but we will still end up in the scrap yard of the universe: “From dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return.” Given plastic’s resistance to degrading, that faded little sippy cup may even outlast us humans. It if does, it will be the poster-child for the Great Chasm. If it doesn’t, maybe we can recycle it– and use it to build a stairway to heaven.