a time and a place, and oranges.

I remember all of the lectures growing up, how “there’s a time and a place for everything”. The three taboos in my household were simple – Do not discuss with others:
1. Religion
2. Politics
or 3. The boy you like.
It seemed pretty simple at the time, but then society taught me a plethora of news ones.

Growing up, I learned the hard way that pants and shoes are required in public, that you’re not supposed to ask family members if they bought you something for Christmas, and that telling someone loudly that they have food on their face can lead to their sudden embarrassment when the rest of the room turns to look.

As I got older, these social rules became tighter. My private school had fine dining for lunch and all of the formalities that accompanied it. There was a time and a place to gross my friends out with my chewed up food, to eat with my hands, to slouch, to not wait for the prayer before eating, to fling peas into the ceiling tiles, or to talk incessantly – and this meal time was not the time, an this dining hall was not the place. Especially if the school headmaster or stringent Latin teacher was heading your table assignment.

I was always challenged by being kind to those who were not kind to me in high school. I was told to not speak ill of those who, I knew, were speaking ill of me behind my back. There was a time and a place to say how I feel, and it was either at home, in secrecy, or never at all.

In college and in my professional life, it feels like there is never a time or a place. I’m always being watched, I’m always on my toes, I’m always trying to make friends but also keep on top, and I’m always being evaluated.

But what I want to know is, if there is a time and a place for everything, then why does it only apply to social etiquette??

This occurred to me as I was sitting in a meeting and noticed someone had a coffee mug koozy with a plug coming out of it. I thought, that takes a little out of the moment, doesn’t it? When I pour a mug of hot tea, part of enjoying the moment is knowing it’s temporary.

When I was younger, my Grandma M. would tell me that her most memorable Christmas gift growing up was an orange.

“It was the most expensive gift I had ever had. No one could get oranges in December without paying an arm and a leg for it. And now look at all of these rotting oranges getting thrown out of the grocer’s.”

I’m constantly frustrated by the juxtaposition in modern American society of do this, be that, follow these deadlines to the Verizon Wireless minute on one side of the coin, then be lazy, use energy like it grows on trees, and waste things. How is it we have to put on this façade of being one way socially, but we can be immoral, unappreciative people behind closed doors?

I want everything I do to be an orange. I want to know not just its
value but also its worth. I don’t want to live with this American mentality that things are disposable and easily replaced. I don’t want to live with an undeserving sense of entitlement. I won’t treat myself to something special just to soothe tugs of nostalgia but rather I will appreciate its absence and honor its time and place

And I will never look at an orange the same way again.

worth.

I have volunteered on projects my whole life, whether it’s a cleanup, fundraising, habitat for humanity, or construction work with Engineers Without Borders. I’ve slowly come to realize, as I’ve said before, how much money might have value, but time has something more. Not only is personal involvement more, well, personal, but it has an unmeasurable amount of worth to those affected.

How do you measure the worth of something? Well, it’s all relative.

When I was standing in a dusty yard in a small Cameroonian village watching children kick a torn soccer ball and I pulled little Belinda aside to give her a slightly used pair of lady’s shoes, no dollar sign could represent the emotion she had for the shoes. She literally grabbed my arms in shock, timidly put a shoe to her foot – a perfect fit –
then flat out collapsed in my arms and tucked her legs into the air. There I was, standing against a wall, holding a dangling child by my forearms who was so humbled by a simple gift that she buried her face in my stomach and couldn’t even look me in the eye. Then she grabbed the bag and ran home to her hut faster than an American child to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.

How do you measure that?
Shoes, $50.
Visa, $140.
Plane ticket, $1,864.

Or…
Time spent in Cameroon, 3 weeks.
Time spent on project, thousands of hours.
The look on her face, UNMEASURABLE.

When I paid twice the price for a loaf of bread in Ouidah, Benin, the grandmother who couldn’t even speak French communicated by the happy tears in her eyes and her clasped hands. For an extra 200 francs. Or 40 cents.

Playing games with the children in the village last year…and then returning over a year later to the same children, slightly taller, wearing the same clothes (just more tattered), screaming my name and dancing the dances I taught them. Priceless. Their joy, for nothing, with so much worth.

Even better than the feeling of feeding the poor and sitting with them on Thanksgiving is taking a tag off of the Salvation Army tree, putting serious effort in picking the best gifts for the anonymous wishes, then dropping the bag off. You don’t know where it goes, they’ll never know who you are, and that secrecy feels so selfless that it’s selfish. And worth a LOT.

But even more simply, sitting here on a worksite, on a cold Sunday morning, covered in mud, one has a new appreciation for the DuPont suits given to the workers. They work so hard and so long, harder than I, and they are overwhelmingly appreciative when I give out company stickers for their hard hats. Because they earned it. Because it’s their badge of honor. But it’s just a silly sticker that I have complained about so often, one that is such an awkward shape that it doesn’t stick smoothly to the plastic. But things mean so much more when you’re a dedicated immigrant, happy to have a job and to live in America.

Finally, myself.

This is the kicker, my self-worth. How I measure myself. Well, how I have beenmeasuring my worth and not even realizing it.

Social media. How many likes I get. And it’s not just me! So many friends I talk to agree, we evaluate ourselves by the feedback we get when we put ourselves out there on social media.

I post something I love. I get little to no likes. On Facebook. On Instagram. Retweets or favorites on Twitter. Views on this blog.

My worth becomes the quantity of likes I receive. The quality? Some of these people I don’t even know…yet I still do it…

I compare myself.
He has more likes. She ALWAYS gets likes. What does that mean?? Do I have less friends? Am I not as interesting or popular or loved?? What does it mean???

It shouldn’t mean anything, but I have to admit that it means everything. Whether I want it to or not. And I hate it.

But at the same time, when I put something out there that I think is meaningless or controversial…. And people take my side – that is so incredibly empowering.

I guess we just need to get a grip on what something is worth, lest we continue to harm ourselves or under-appreciate things that could be a total game changer to someone else.