A Note From the Condiment Bin

Lori Ventola is a Denver resident who wants to start a mobile after-school program that helps children of the homeless transition into school. I’ve read her blog, and she seems like a really neat lady. She’s also the winner of Donald Miller’s “Living a Better Story” blog contest. I want to congratulate her and acknowledge that no, I didn’t win.

Lori’s story seems to be a perfect match for the contest. Soon after the contest was announced, Don posted a tip saying”…if you want to start a dance school, for instance, it will require a building, some instructors, some interns, a computer system or whatever. The more specific, the better your chances of coming to Portland.” Lori outlined her plans, and she’ll soon be on her way to Portland – and enjoying that coveted vacuumed space. Seriously, I am happy for her and for those that will be helped as she lives out her story. But…

Always one to question what I “did wrong” in situations like this, I’ve wondered if it was foolish for me to have entered the contest knowing that the story I want to live isn’t exactly what was being asked for. Then again, someone once said, “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!”

Stories like Lori’s are greatly needed (I think that was the point of the whole contest) and should be greatly admired, but I don’t think those of us with more subtle stories should feel like losers. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced I am like that wee squishy packet in the condiment bin. In fact, I might be one of the packets at the very bottom of the bin. Just when the supply starts running low, and I might actually have a chance of being plopped onto someone’s plastic tray, someone in a logoed polo and cap comes and dumps a bunch of fresh packets on me. But that’s OK because I’m still here – taking up space, helping the bin look amply supplied, and being available in case I’m needed. Being available might sound passive and taking up space is often derided, but I think there are better stories being told here than might be obvious.

Consider the concept of zeros as placeholders in numbers: 1,000,000 would only be “1” without them. “Are you serious?” you ask. “Being a zero is the story you want to live?” Well, here’s another story…

Little Amy lives on a big ranch in Wyoming. One day her daddy takes her to a horse show in Casper. It’s her first visit to the big city, and as the sun starts fading on the North Platte River, they pull their crew cab into a fast food chain. Amy’s eyes grow wide because it’s just like the ones she’s seen on satellite TV. Daddy lets her carry her own tray and then lets her get her own ketchup for her kiddie meal. She stands on her tiptoes and stretches her reed-like little arm to the eye-level condiment bin. Concentrating with her tongue between her teeth, she can barely reach into the bottom of it. Her groping fingers find a wee squishy packet. Lord knows how long it’s been since someone reached that low into the bin! She holds it close to her face and tries to read the label; after all, she is six and trying to read everything. She’s not quite sure it says “Ketchup,” but she trusts it is exactly what she thinks it is, so she gently places it beside the colorful box on her tray. After Daddy finds a booth seat and helps her unpack her meal, she takes the wee squishy packet, tears off a corner with her teeth (she watched her daddy do this first) and then she smears a tiny blob on a salty, golden fry. For some time she sits, swinging her legs and bobbing her head, happily eating her chicken and carefully ketchup-topped fries. Finally, she holds the shriveled, smudgy packet up to her daddy’s face. “Here, Daddy,” she says. “I used it all up. Is that OK?”

“That’s what it’s for, Cowgirl. That’s what it’s for.”

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