In Debt to Mickey D’s
When I stood at childhood’s gate, one piece of parental advice proved more helpful than the rest. One anonymous day in an inauspicious place, I was told to follow my gut, and I did, and it worked.
The annual Pangborn summer vacation had arrived. In the eight-hour car ride between Pennsylvania and Maine, family tensions had reached their usual peak. Sister clashed versus sister in the monumental battle for the bucket seat in the van. Similarly, the parental units collided in the quest to find the best route to Kennebunkport. A six-year-old boy sat quietly in the back and colored.
Finally, stomachs overruled mouths and we followed the yellow arches to a McDonald’s. Within minutes, our young artist found himself staring up at a countertop and into the not-so-smiling face of a Mickey D employee. Mother bent over to speak to her son. “What do you want?”
“I don’t know….” The monumental choice of what to eat was too great a decision to be made on a whim.
“Well you’re going to have to decide, just ask yourself what you want to eat.”
“I don’t know….”
“What’s your gut feeling?”
“Fish filet… whoa!”
“Would you like fries with that?”
The gut instinct, repressed by a childhood in civilization, was rediscovered. Our once indecisive youngling became an outward decider. As time passed and our hero grew into a young man, he learned to apply his gut to the situations that really counted, the situations that could affect the rest of his life.
When I say “gut,” there is both a literal and metaphorical place implied. In one sense, it is the contents of your body between your sternum and your bellybutton (including those super-sized fries). In the other, it is the primeval instincts of your brain, always willing to offer advice when the rest of your most powerful organ jumbles with cause and effect, right and wrong, logic and the lack thereof.
This two-faceted definition helps us discover just what our gut is trying to tell us. Imagining it as emanating from our body’s core turns off those distractions of the complexity of our thought and leaves only raw animal impulse, the truest form of what we want. Just as we can focus on the sensation of a paper cut on the tip of our pinky finger, putting all other senses aside, we need to turn our complete concentration to our gut. Amazingly, within this unthinking jumble of tubes, muscles and bone, an answer will appear through the fog as if by magic.
I believe that every person has something to gain from following his or her gut, especially when more than lunch is on the table. It is extremely important to weigh a situation cautiously and meticulously, but more often than not one encounters a stalemate. When these occur, the swing vote should always go to our gut instinct. Even if things don’t turn out like we’d hoped, we were true to the very fiber of our being, and therefore cannot logically regret the decision.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.