Parable of the Broken Bottle

“I can’t open this bottle,” I sputtered in frustration. I was late in eating lunch before dashing for the city bus to the university. I hit the bottle of salad dressing against the counter to loosen it—an action I’d learned from my mother and one that often had worked before. However, this time my taps were more like slams . . . and the bottle top shattered when I hit it.
“Oh Rats!” I stood with a mess in my hands and at my feet. Suddenly I saw myself as a little kid who was not getting her way and was lashing out at any person or object nearby. In the jolt of this image, I gulped . . . and laughed.

The lunch rush at the House of Studies where several of us sisters lived during our grad school years was often marked by eating-on-the-run followed by a rush to catch the bus four blocks away. Most of us studied or wrote until the last minute before moving into hurry mode. We knew how to tap into our adrenaline and practice in making and eating lunch fast to get us to the bus on time. Hence, we could avoid waiting for the next bus a half hour later. Also, we would not need to endure a cumbersome entrance to the open classroom seats, usually in the back corner of the room.

I envision that Jesus could have fashioned such an incident into a parable. Philosopher Paul Ricoeur outlines one pattern of a parable: an encounter or intrusion in our current mindset and actions; a change of heart; and making a decision accordingly. My salad dressing episode provided the makings of a parable: An intrusion into my frantic expectations stopped me and pulled me into a change of heart and action.

My noon lunch pattern of haste and drivenness was interrupted by the broken bottle and a mess. The sisters helped me clean up the dressing and soothed my embarrassment about my upset. A glimpse of myself as a child demanding immediate action with the bottle disrupted my frenzy and lack of realistic judgment. Laughter followed.

Through later reflection I saw signs of some shifts within me and my action. I realized my tendency to work to the last minute and my unrealistic estimation of what I could do during a particular period of time. A call for change shouted at me! I need to monitor the how of what I do rather than being driven by productivity. I was moved to humility; I am not in control of everything in my life. I realized I can choose my attitudes and actions so I am not at the mercy of the clock and my expectations.

During my everyday life incidents can be times of “grace following upon grace” (Jn 1:14). Grace can bless even the messes of my daily life. Grace can transform me gradually into a traveler on Christ’s path of humility, dependence on God and people, and graciousness. The route for the journey had become clearer.

For further reflection on this parable in daily life, see Running With Expanding Heart: Meeting God in Everyday Life, Mary Reuter, OSB, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 15-18.

Mary Reuter, OSB

Photo by Amanda Hackett