_ Late Wednesday evening John dropped me off at the South Bend airport and went off to park the car. We were there to pick up our son, and since his bus wasn’t in yet, I wandered around the waiting area. I ambled over to the vending machines, not hungry, but curious about what they offered.
There was an African-American man with a trim, salt-and-pepper beard looking over the selections. When he realized I was looking at the same machine, he stepped back with a word of apology. “I was just trying to find the prices,” he said. “I’m not really buying.”
I nodded. “Me either.”
We contemplated the cookies and potato chips and saw the prices at almost the same moment.
“Damn!” he said, and a beat later I said, “Goodness!”
At the same time, he caught himself with a “Sorry, excuse me,” and went on, “Yeah, goodness!” and chuckled.
I hadn’t really heard what either of us had said till then, hearing instead our common meaning that the junk food was way overpriced, but something about these parallel but opposite exclamations continues to amuse me.
“Damn” is actually quite appropriate. I’m reminded of a Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman story in which a personified Famine is the CEO for the Newtrition corporation, which produces food made of “spun, plaited, and woven protein molecules, capped and coded, carefully designed to be ignored by even the most ravenous digestive tract enzymes; no-cal sweeteners; mineral oils replacing vegetable oils; fibrous materials, colorings, and flavorings.” The end result is a food that looks like any other food except that it costs more and you starve to death eating it. And Famine’s goal is quite literally the damnation of those who eat the food. The vending machine choices weren’t from the Newtrition company, but cost and nutrition-wise, they were near cousins.
So what about my “Goodness” exclamation?
It comes from childhood training and a continued adult commitment to not readily use swear words -- if I'm going to say them, I mean them. Mostly 'goodness' was just a sound. I certainly didn’t mean there was anything much good about either the food choices or the prices.
Perhaps at a deeper level it is a prayer, a blessing. Instead of a “damned if I’ll eat that, or pay that,” perhaps it can be “may goodness and mercy abound, even here, despite overpriced junk food.” Or maybe at some level it is a plea: “Goodness, come rescue us!”
The man and I strolled back to the seating area, he shaking his head. “Buying two of those would be more than I’m paying for my Thanksgiving dinner.” I laughed, agreed, and went off to join John.
And goodness did abound with our Thanksgiving dinner, shared with family and friends who brought much good food, conversation and laughter.
Here’s some sparks of light on the cranberries, encountered during my preparation of apple-cranberry pie, just before I added the crumb topping.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"