“…but even the most praiseworthy acts should be done with complete nonattachment and with no concern for results…” ~ Bhagavad Gita
Our youngest son recently got engaged and I was talking to him about wedding business, guest lists and the like, when he brought up a story from my past. I’m not sure when or why I told this story to my children, but it might have been a “becareful what-you-wish-for” lecture. Now, more than 30 years after the fact, I view it from a different perspective, with an altogether discrepant lesson.
In 1984, my brothers were young adults, living at home for the summer. One was on break from college, and the other was spending his last few weeks of bachelorhood saving money for his upcoming wedding. I was already married, with a mortgage, a toddler, and another baby on the way. Our parents were out of town for a few days, which was a very rare event, leaving “the boys” to fend for themselves. So, with my parents out of town and my older sister living in another state, I somehow felt responsible for my brothers’ wellbeing. I was the pseudo-mom until my parents returned. I would provide at least one meal each day for my younger siblings, who were seriously old enough to figure it out on their own, except that it made me feel good to cater to them.
On this particularly memorable evening, I pulled from the trunk of my car the dinner I had prepared and carried it into my parent’s kitchen. As luck would have it, I walked in on an argument my brothers were having over who should get to use the car that night. Realize, this was the early ‘80s when families had only one car, one TV, and one landline telephone, to be shared and squabbled over on a regular basis.
As I laid the dinner out on the kitchen table, my youngest brother drew me in to the melee. “Laurie, who do you think should get the car tonight?” he asked.
My first mistake was to answer the question. I should have ignored the inquiry and slipped out the door; delivered the roast beef and dashed. But no, I actually gave the question consideration before answering that the oldest of my two brothers should get the car because, well, he was the oldest. Then I proceeded to set the table for my (let’s just say, unappreciative) siblings.
Does anyone remember, Pudding in a Cloud? It’s a dessert concocted by the makers of Jello Pudding. I’m not sure if anyone makes it anymore, but for a while, it was a favorite at my house. You line a cup with whipped cream, then layer chocolate pudding and whipped cream in the dish creating a sweet treat that was not only tasty but also aesthetically pleasing. I was really proud of my pudding, and the fact that I went the extra mile for my (let me say again, unappreciative) brothers.
Well, my answer about “who should get the car” was not well received by my younger brother; the one who was getting married in a few weeks. A wedding where I was pegged to be a pregnant bridesmaid. His frustration at being out-voted on the car business was then directed at me, the deciding vote. There I stood, with a tray of beautifully created Pudding in a Cloud desserts in my hands, and I was being tonguelashed by my (unappreciative?) brother. So, I took the mature approach and threw the tray of pudding at the kitchen wall. As Istomped out the door without a backward glance I heard my brother’s parting barb, “I don’t want you anywhere near my wedding on my wedding day!” Ouch.
In the next few days, tempers cooled and everyone was on speaking terms again. I have no idea who took the car out that night, and when my mom questioned the chocolate splatters that were missed in the clean-up, I think the disaster was reported as an “accident.” But here’s the “be-careful-what-you-wish-for” story…I did not attend my brother’s wedding. I showed up in my bridesmaid dress for the photo session hours before wedding time. And as the pictures were taken, I started feeling light-headed, then dizzy. My stomach was upset and within a short time I was experiencing all the symptoms of a bad case of flu. I left the church and went to the doctor who then admitted me to the hospital. Instead of standing at the altar as a witness to my brother’s nuptials, I lay in a hospital bed in physical and emotional misery. Was this my punishment for tossing the pudding?
Now, 33 years after the fact, I see the whole car/pudding debacle in a different light. Why did I make meals for my brothers? Did I expect their praise and thanks? Did I want them to feel indebted to me for my generosity? Certainly, bestowing the “gifts” of my time and labor made me feel better about myself. I was attached to the outcome of my actions. No wonder I lost my temper. Someone did not act in the way I expected them to. As if I could control the actions of another, I was wildly disappointed their actions did not meet my expectations.
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient text taken from an epic book called the Mahabharata. The story presents lessons in human existence pertaining to compassion, truth and impossible decisions. With clarity, the text reminds us that our acts, however “praiseworthy” should be done without regard for the outcome. Instead we act for “the well-being of the whole world,” not our own egos. That would have been useful information in the summer of 1984.
Over the years since “Pudding on the Wall,” I stopped flinging food. I can’t say the thought has not since crossed my mind, but think about it. When we are angry or frustrated, how often is it because our expected outcome did not come to fruition? We weren’t recognized for our generosity, or composure, or intelligence or friendliness. No one acknowledged our extra effort or sacrifice. Attention or affection was not bestowed upon us at the right time, or with the enthusiasm we had envisioned. We become attached to the outcome of our actions, which creates only suffering when the outcome does not match the importance we have attached to it.
Fortunately, my brother’s marriage has endured for 33 years without the blessing of my presence at the altar. And the 1972 Oldsmobile at the heart of the scuffle, was disassembled for parts years ago. But I’m guessing that somewhere, in a dark corner of my mother’s kitchen, there’s a tiny, indiscriminate stain of chocolate. A blemish that serves as a reminder to act for the wellbeing of all, without concern for the ego of one.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.