Today I am going to tell you my Very Stupid Raisin Story. It takes place when I am about 20 years old and am going to Cal State Fullerton University for a degree in Vocal Performance, which I am sure will make me millions of dollars and spread the fame of my extraordinary talents far and wide, as totally happened in Real Life. In a different universe which I am sure exists somewhere out there beyond this one.
Anyhow, I’m 20 years old and I’m carrying about 18 credits in eight classes and I have mountains of homework and hours of rehearsals and private voice lessons which are not part of the curriculum but must be paid separately. To help pay for that, I have a part time job at the Broadway, a department store which no longer exists, and I spend most of my time there as a “contingent” (sub) in departments such as cosmetics, carpets and furniture – all departments in which salespeople earn commissions. They resent my being there because I might actually make a sale, and rob them of their 2.5%. I earn $3.05 hourly before taxes and I work 20 hours a week, most of which nobody really appreciates.
I am a bit depressed.
Depressed because I am a faceless minion in the unwashed masses of music students all hoping to be The Discovered One. Because I am working my perky young ass off for professors who have the unique ability to ignore your best ideas while zeroing in with pinpoint accuracy on your errors, therefore insuring your humility as you do nine hours of homework for each class of which you have eight, and each one is by far the most important class you cannot possibly get less than an A for. Depressed because I work six days a week trying to NOT sell stuff while I go to school five days and all of them are around 12-14 hours long and nobody is satisfied with my best work while I am under the impression that this is completely normal and doable so my discomfort is just a weakness of will, talent or both.
So I am depressed. I am standing at the vending machines on the second floor of the music building, thinking that I will assuage my misery with a Mars bar, or a bag of Fritos. I reach into my purse and pull out….. twelve cents.
Now let me make this clear. I am not homeless. I live with my parents – while not optimal for a young person wanting to assert independence, it is nonetheless practical for a music student working a part time job. I give 30% of my income to the family, put 30% in a savings account and have 40% to do with whatever I like. I have dinners, most of the time, when I am not too tired to eat them after work at 10pm. I have a twin bed with Peanuts sheets. I share a car with my mother. So I am not impoverished. Just 20-something and broke.
But standing in front of a vending machine with twelve cents in your pocket is a bit of a bummer.
So I sit down on one of the little plastic chairs scattered there in the hallway and have myself a good long existential crisis. I heroically and stalwartly bemoan my fate. I move from feeling like a downtrodden peasant to an ill-treated princess in exile, and am just about to swing into full blown Unappreciated Impoverished Genius when I hear a whirr and a click and a thump. I stand up to investigate.
One of the vending machines has spontaneously disgorged the contents of C13.
A tiny box of Sunmaid raisins.
The only thing in the entire vending machine that isn’t empty calories and fat, which was what I really wanted anyway, having overlooked the raisins completely in my quest for crappy, sugar-loaded food.
So I take the box of raisins, and I sit down again and as I eat them I feel increasingly….. dumb. And grateful.
Would I have died for lack of raisins? No. Did the Miracle of the Raisin Box restore my faith in myself and humanity? No. Was it a gesture of magnificence that I will tell my grandchildren so that the story will inspire generations to come? Probably not.
It’s a stupid story about raisins.
But it’s also a story about small things mattering. Because even though it didn’t save my life, it did remind me that my life still has humor and wonder and serendipity in it. That there are moments that are small and inconsequential and no less remarkable for being that. Someone, God or the universe or the smaller gods of vending machines, took pity upon my self pity and dropped me some raisins. “Here, ” the universe said, “Get over yourself. I still care.”
Sometimes when you feel really small and stupid and overlooked, something small and stupid and easily overlooked can make you feel much, much better. That you are at the right place at the right time for the small, but right reason.
I guess I’m telling this story now because we’re in the strangest of times. Some people fighting for their lives, others being heroes saving lives. Some being horrible villains that you can’t help but argue about and shake your fists at. Others creating magical moments of connection, or raising thousands of dollars or creating spectacular works of art that point to the glory of humanity at its best. And a lot of us, the others, the rest, sitting around and thinking, “What the hell have I got to contribute to this? What’s my part in the story?”
Feeling a bit like sideliners. Benched. Of no matter. Small, stupid and easily overlooked.
Would it be silly to say we are all like tiny boxes of raisins? We folks who contribute a few dollars to a non-profit, or drop off some groceries, or make a phone call. We who paint rocks or draw with sidewalk chalk or drive by someone’s house and honk. We who pray in our rooms where nobody sees. We who wear masks in the grocery aisle and try to smile with our eyes, knowing it’s very likely nobody can actually see that. Is it worth it? Does it even count? Why bother? Are we just wasting time?
I think it does count. It is worth it, and worth the bother. Because I also think maybe we are all metaphorically speaking, tiny boxes of raisins. Small and inconsequential, but perfectly timed. It makes me feel a little better to think of it that way. After all, when we can only do what we can do, it’s very easy to believe it’s not Enough. I am not the coveted Fritos. Not the yummy yummy Mars bar. I’m not Essential. I’m not heroically suffering for the good of the world. There’s no statue being erected to sidewalk chalk draw-ers. I paint rocks and leave them out for the neighborhood; when they disappear I am not sure they’ve been taken as treasure or simply tossed out as trash. There’s nothing grand about any of it. I’m throwing pebbles on a beach. Maybe not even pebbles, maybe grains of sand. I’m not heroically being ignored for all my heroic activities for the good of the blah blah blah blaaaaaaaaaaaaah. <quietly stepping down from soapbox>
It’s easy to get a little twinge of jealousy, or resentment or hopelessness. I know I do, all the time. Because I’m a bit of a twit. But I’m still a fully present, possibly useful someday twit.
If you feel anything like me – and why would you? You are a much better human being – it’s entirely possible that, at any moment, even right this moment, your life may be the whirr, click, thump that turns someone’s head around to make them look. To help them see.
And to feed them, just a little bit, with sweetness and good simple nourishment, in a tiny single-serving size. C13 isn’t much, but it isn’t empty either.
Long live the raisins!