Monday, November 17, 2014

Oranges and Olives

I don't like orange peel.

I love oranges, but really can't stand their packaging material. In fact, it would be preferable to chew a piece of aluminum foil to having a slice of the peel in my mouth.

A number of years ago I was at a party when a friend of mine came bouncing over and placed a piece of chocolate in my mouth. She was kind of funny that way, and very sweet about it. Unfortunately it happened to be a piece of chocolate covered orange peel. (I know I told a version of this story a few months ago, but it really did come up again the other day, so pardon me for repeating it here so soon.) (I think this is divine karma, as you will soon see.)

Now I've been told by some that it is very amusing to watch the various contortions my face undergoes when I have the unfortunate reality of having a piece of the peel in my mouth. That moment was no exception.

Naturally, she felt very bad about this and ran off to get me something to drink. Knowing that I was a Baha'i and never touched alcohol, she had a bit of difficulty finding me a safe to drink. It was that kind of a party. But after a few moments of eternity to me, she ran back with a cup of tea. I grabbed the cup and quickly sipped some of that steaming beverage.

It was Red Zinger, which has copious amounts of orange peel in it.

I still shudder in memory.

And yes, I'm sure my expression was amusing to all who witnessed.

Can't you just see me, with an expression of extreme gustatory repugnance, disgust, and general abhorrence, eager at the thought of getting something more palatable in my mouth? And then that moment of frozen shock when I realize that the situation has just been made worse?

In fact, there was one time I was visiting a friend at a health food store, and they had just received in a basket of fresh kumquats. Another worker there, in her red knit hat with black specks and a green foof on top that looked incredibly like a giant strawberry, was so enamoured of these "delectable little morsels" that she was bouncing around the store passing out free samples to all who cared to try them. I, of course, politely declined. "Oh, but they are so full of flavour, so fresh, and so delicious." While I didn't doubt the first two, I certainly questioned the last. "But kumquats taste nothing like oranges", both little miss strawberry-head and my friend insisted. I explained my problem with the peel, explaining that there is a rare mutation of the palette that enables those with it to taste a particular molecule found in orange peel, lemon peel, and within grapefruit millions of times stronger than normal. Hence my preference for foil to peel. It really is less painful to me. Just imagine that slight sharpness of zest that so many people love within their food, that seemingly random explosive burst of flavour that dissipates more quickly than the after-trails of fireworks, and magnify it by millions. It is sort of like the difference between that little sparkler given to kids on the 4th of July in the States, and a 50 megaton nuclear bomb that wipes out vast areas of desert, transforming the surrounding sands into sheets of glass which you can use to help read at night. We're talking a mouth full of peel-flavour so intense that my entire face feels like a 35 ton bronze bell that's just struck noon. This was not something I particularly cared to try.

But, as my friend pointed out, I had never had one. And while they are related to oranges, they are not the same.

So I relented, and with great trepidation popped one in my mouth. Whole, as they suggested.

And promptly blacked out.

Now, to be fair, I didn't really black out. I mean, I did, but I didn't. From my perspective, it's a blackout. From their perspective, it was a bit more terrifying. Evidently I scrunched my eyes shut very tightly. They could actually see how tight my eyes were scrunched. And my jaw was clenched. Really clenched. They could actually see the force of the clenching muscles. And then my hands became fists and I began to pound on the counter, seemingly in intense pain.

They were ready to call an ambulance.

While these symptoms only lasted for a few minutes, so they said, I could taste the "delectable little morsel" for the next few days. Literally.

Little miss strawberry head and my friend were both very apologetic, and agreed. I don't like orange peel.

But what does this have to do with the Faith? Well, aside from God loving laughter, what does it have to do with the Faith?

A few things, actually.

First of all, just a few days ago I was sitting at a friend's home waiting for the start of a meeting, talking with another friend who was there. (Don't worry Greg, I won't mention your name.) While we were chatting, I noticed a dish of food there. The host, an elderly Persian woman, always has lots of food for us, and encourages us to eat far more than is likely healthy. She would give my Jewish grandmother a run for her money, even though she has never called me "bubala". (I'll let you look it up.)

Now, this wasn't just a dish of food. It was a small dish with little squares of dark chocolate covered with a sprinkling of shredded coconut. For that, I needed no encouragement.

With a smile of joyous anticipation. I reached over and popped one of those beautiful squares into my mouth.

And discovered it was laced with orange peel.

You may remember up above where I said that some people say "that it is very amusing to watch the various contortions my face undergoes when I have the unfortunate reality of having a piece of the peel in my mouth". It took my friend, the anonymous Mr Bell, quite some time to stop laughing. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen him laugh so much in my life. It would have been great to see if the cause had been any less personal.

When the hostess came back in the room, she had a tray of tea, thankfully not orange peel, and placed it on the table while she went back to get the cream and sugar. I jumped up and ran to get that tray. "Sit", she called out, "I'll serve you. Don't worry." "Oh, that's ok. It's no problem", I replied. Really, it wasn't. I gave laughing boy his tea and proceeded to drink mine fairly quickly. He was a bit slower in drinking his, due to respiratory problems he developed while laughing so hard, for which I had little to no sympathy.

Then I proceeded to relate to him the whole story I outlined above.

There is, of course, another connection to the Faith, one which I like a lot more.

One day, it has been said, a man who really disliked olives was visiting Baha'u'llah. Knowing of this man's lack of appreciation for this venerated fruit, Baha'u'llah joked with him about how important a place this fruit has in the history of religion. After all, there are many references to the twin olive trees, to name just a single of these. "Haven't you read", Baha'u'llah is reported to have asked him, "of what the Prophet Muhammad said of olives?" "Of course", the man replied, to Baha'u'llah's great delight "but it's obvious He never tasted them."

There is also a pilgrims note that says 'Abdu'l-Baha encouraged us to take a bite of the rind whenever we eat an orange. And while I love all the stories of the Master, I am very grateful to the wisdom He showed in not putting this in writing anywhere else.