I’m staring out the window at the lemon tree full of shining beautiful bright yellow orbs. I’ve been hanging out at this health retreat and staring at that darn tree and doing nothing about it for almost two weeks, long past the time I was supposed to leave.
OK not doing nothing. Every single day, I have been scolding myself for not picking some lemons and squeezing them into a lovely juice.
Things have gone awry lately in my life which is what got me stuck at this window in the first place. The lemons have become aligned with my failures. Unused and failed potential just like me. Again and again as the days have skittered past and my life along with them, I thought well hell Carpe Fructum, at least.
Yet…nothing. Every day those lemons became markers of a deeper and deeper failure. My daughter’s grandparents have a beautiful lemon tree in their yard, and this tree here reminded me of that tree – two lemon trees from which I have not reaped any tangible benefits. Life was giving me lemons and I was not making lemonade, I was just lamenting the lemons I didn’t make lemonade with previously, and lumping these ones in with them.
Yesterday I got fed up. I took action. I got a ladder, climbed up, and grabbed a dozen of the best looking lemons I could see. Lemon trees can be pretty thorny. But I got them.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. I still dispute this when we are talking about actual books (ex: romance paperbacks). But with these lemons it was indisputably true. On the tree, in the bowl, man they looked good. We took them straight inside, cut them open, and they were brown and shriveled and smelly and dead and rotten.
Every single one of them.
We stared at the 24 lemon halves a good ten minutes in disbelief. Not even a single half-lemon was OK to eat or juice.
So I learned a few things.
First, when life gives you lemons, you can’t always make lemonade and you must not blame yourself for this. Plus you also need water and sweetener to make decent lemonade, and people always leave that out too.
Second, come to think of it, I actually don’t understand this stupid Dale Carnegie quote, cause he’s the one attributed as its originator. I really like lemons. I’ll eat them raw, just as is. Why is it bad to get lemons? The problem here is, life DIDN’T give me lemons! Life teased me with its lemons! Life KEPT its lemons from me! Fuck you life! Where’s my lemons!?
Third, things are not always what they seem. At least I didn’t have to live inside the silly platitude. Life gave me lemons, and then what. Life gave me lemons, but not really. It was all a trick. When life gives you ROTTEN lemons, then what do you do? How about this?
Or as Calvin and Hobbes author Bill Watterston said simply, “When life gives you lemons, chuck it right back.” And a quick Google check finds this other, apparently Christian, solution – compost them. But I don’t actually live here, and though it’s a health spa of sorts, there’s no compost heap I know of.
Fourth, I hate platitudes. But I already knew that.
Today I stare out the window and see the lemons differently. No longer do I see a chastisement for what I didn’t do. I see instead that all the regret was my mind’s silly trick. Those same rotted lemons no longer taunt me. Now they show me hope, tolerance, acceptance, and willingness. They give clarity to the human condition. I sat here for two weeks, lambasting myself for not picking and squeezing lemons that, in reality, were useless as anything but the ornaments they were already being! I had done nothing wrong. And the lemons hadn’t either.
It was an inspired bit of upside-down laissez-faire Buddhist appreciation, letting the lemons be exactly what they were destined to be. And me with them.
The lemons weren’t sinful any more than the apple that tempted Eve. The sin was picking them. Making them mine alone. Cutting them open to see their realities. Except where picking the apple doomed millennia of people to suffer, picking the lemons liberated me.
Thank God I was too lazy to pick them all. Eventually of course they will all fall from the tree. But that’s their problem. And then my host says this to me:
“Hey Michael, did you know that rotten lemons can be used in recovering gold bits from waste?”
So there you go. If life gives you rotten lemons, use them for enlightenment, and alchemy. Or do what this woman is doing.