One Cherry Tomato
Recently we celebrated my mum’s birthday.
It’s been an unbreakable custom of our family to celebrate birthdays with a dinner at home, usually the weekend before the actual birthday. We’ve done this for over 20 years now.
When we lived together it was a lot easier. Now that we live apart, with two brothers having different businesses, time schedules, and even sleep-wake cycles, it’s gotten a lot harder. But the hard-won time we make and the committed effort we take to come together makes each and every such occasion a truly special one. The happy glow on my parents faces alone makes it worth it.
Dinner consists of healthy home-cooked food supplemented by favourite foods bought home. It’s always a thrill for us to make separate trips to favourite restaurants, buy those two or three special dishes, then bring that food home and combine them with the dishes my mum would have been cooking at home. It’s a joy to see it everything come together as one beautiful, mouth-watering spread, paralleling how each of us have come together from different places ready to sit down as one family.
Enter the cherry tomatoes.
To be more precise, enter 3 of them.
My dad buys cherry tomatoes in packets from Cold Storage. They are tasty and healthy, juicy and crunchy, and every time I visit for dinner we all get a few to go on the plate. But this time, there were only three.
What to do? The most natural thing would be for one person to eat all three. It wouldn’t be selfish or anything, just practical. I mean, three is hardly a mouthful.
Without even thinking about it, Dad just divided it out so that the three of us each got one. (Mum doesn’t eat them so she went without)
What was interesting to me was the picture that appeared.
One red dot in a sea of white. And it got me thinking about family and love.
The tomatoes are great but alone they are small, and don’t give you that much kick. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he had eaten them all. Not one of us would have considered it a selfish act. In fact what my Dad did might strike some as silly.
But it wasn’t the practicality of the gustatory experience he was thinking of. It was an automatic action, a natural extension of something we’ve always practiced as a family – sharing as a way to love and take care of one another.
There is a lot of emphasis these days on the practical. Gestures should be practical – only if they serve a useful function. Gifts should be practical – such as money or something you can use. Friendships should be practical – gestures and actions done with a mind to building up your Emotional Bank Account… from which you can then draw in the future. Acts of kindness like a helping hand or even a smile at a stranger? Why do that, when you’ll get nothing back and some may even think you’re a weirdo or a perv?
I realized in that one moment that ultimately, what made me who I am, why I chose a profession with contribution as a main attractor over more lucrative options, why I give my best to friendships to an extent some might consider above and beyond, even some of my ideas of what relationships mean in the AA35 framework…. All this came from my family upbringing, and learning from my parents what love was, and then shaping what I must definitely have in my own relationships .
Sharing brought us closer, made us feel warm even when we didn’t have a lot of material comfort. It shaped my attitudes about love, kindness, compassion, 爱心, and the true happiness that can exist independently of practical desirables like money, power and fame.
Thank you, mum and dad.
Thank you for showing me that love is about the small little things we do for each other on a day-to-day basis. Not the one extravagant gift or two we buy on those few special occasions a year.
Thank you for imparting the concepts of kindness, fairness, compassionate, contribution, and other qualities whose value lies not in their practical benefit, but in the type of person you become by practising them.
Thank you for teaching me what family togetherness is, and shaping what I want for my own family.
A cherry tomato is very small. But this memory will always be sufficiently sweet, and when things are down, people are selfish and I feel alone in this world, this photo will keep me full with happiness for a long time to come.