“A tale that begins with a beet must end with the devil,” Tom Robbins tells us in the beginning of Jitterbug Perfume (one of the best books ever written in the English language). “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious. Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip… The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies… A tale that begins with a beet must end with the devil.”
The truth is, I’ve kissed a few devils, and in my experience they do seem to share some similarities with beets. A beet appears ordinary at a glance, but beneath the surface lies something that can stain anything it touches. Beets are often served in their own cloyingly sweet cooked syrup , and true to life the more popularly palatable way to serve them diminishes their beneficial qualities. Finally, beets have their selling points: apart from their obvious intensity, they’re also good for us on some levels.
While I could go on comparing the natures of various devils, it seems to me that there are greater evils that lurk in our relationships with beings of all kinds: comparison and expectation.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” we hear again and again. It’s true. Comparison is closely related to expectation; we categorize both produce and people so that we know what we’re likely to see from them. Comparisons are useful in many ways – there’s a reason they happen – but they’re also very limiting. Expecting someone you’ve just met to behave like someone you’ve met before means that odds are good you’re not seeing them for who they really are: themselves.
My resolution for 2014 is to learn to see people as individuals instead of holding them up to others and trying to anticipate their next move. Less forest, more trees. The twin to this resolution is to decrease the amount of insight I expect others to have on any comparative basis (which is to say, pretty much all of it). This will free me up to believe in people a little bit more – to give people the benefit of the doubt – to hope for great things from them. Here’s to 2014.
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