What’s the flavor of your life? Is it sour like a sugarless glass of lemonade? Or maybe bitter like a dark roast of coffee? Or sweet in the way of a jolly-rancher, sickly grape and then razor sharp as it melts on your tongue?
At some point in Kyrgyzstan’s soviet past, someone proposed that the perfect life is like a raspberry, round and plump, juicy and sweet. Life of a kind that’s plucked from the thorn bush, staining your fingers red and finishing with a perfect balance of flavor as it moves across your tongue. This phrase, “Life is a raspberry” means life is awesome, life is grand, life is wonderful.
But it’s rarely heard these days. Maybe people aren’t finding enough to warm their hearts over. Or maybe they’re not seeking the secret joy that can be found in any circumstance. Lenin, still holding a tight grip on secret joy
“Yellow! Hey, yellow! Oh, the yellowest of boys—woo! Over here!” I spun around. He was standing next to his taxi, another voice yelling at me, the quintessential looking tourist, as I walked through our region’s city center.
“I’m not yellow,” I thought, “I’m…peach…or…translucent…or heck, I don’t know, but I don’t like being the brunt of jokes when people think I can’t understand.” Tourist season has arrived and soon I’ll be enjoying more stereotypes, and attempts at higher taxi fares and prices at the market. I can choose to react in anger, letting my passion escape in short staccato bursts. Or I could choose to bottle it up and slink away, licking my wounds of resentment.
Life can be faced like this, back stooped and shoulders curled, wrapped around each burden of stress and anxiety as if harboring them in deep waters under your chest. Worry will always be looking for a place to anchor and only needs a hollow cove to come and hide. The secret is to stand tall, shoulders back and chest out as if to dash to pieces any hope worry might have of settling in your soul.
My friend Akmoor and I were on our way to the bazaar to do some shopping.
“Osh City, Osh City, leaving for Osh!” cried one man, leaning over a Honda.
It was always the taxi guys, and for some reason I was feeling a bit devilish.
“Ok, 100 som!” I said cheerfully, offering 10 times less than the going price.
“100 som!? 100 som! How ‘bout I just take you for free? C’mon, I’ll take you all the way to Osh for free!”
“Ok, let’s go Akmoor!” Giggling we started to walk over to the taxi. Now I don’t understand Russian, but the tone bursting from this man spoke volumes.
We quickly turned and scooted ourselves away from the spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. “Wow, he’s sure got a stick up his butt,” I said in English.
“Stick…huh?” said Akmoor with a quizzical look.
I translated into Kyrgyz and she lost it, doubling over in laughter. We had to keep practicing this new phrase the rest of the way to the bazaar and I kept fielding questions like, “Stick up his butt…can I say stick up her butt?”
Our taxi driver hadn’t taken it with his shoulders back or chest out. And it could have turned my mood sour like his as well, taken me down a notch, leveled me to the lowest common denominator. But Akmoor’s boisterous merriment simply washed over all that was wrong and lifted me on the giggles of her bubbling joy.
Life is always as good as your reactions. It’s been said 100 ways, but it’s true. There will always be tragedy, frustrations and setbacks but how you respond makes our earthly walk a trek in darkness or a journey to be enjoyed.
Life can be wonderful or life can be dark and I’m not saying everyone has a level playing field. Some suffer tragedy while some seem to sail through life with ease.
But life circumstances have never been a good indicator of happiness or satisfaction. I’ve seen those with high privilege bicker and argue with family members and create bitter enemies, and I know others who have lost a spouse and raised children without so much as a sheep in the yard thrive and grow and bring joy to those around them. Life can be like a raspberry if only one knows how to traverse the thorns.
Unfortunately, there are those who see the thorns as a barbed wall of fate and surrender the fight to the ironic idiosyncrasies of life. There’s an idea in Kyrgyzstan that all of life is fated and if anything good happens at all, it’s the blessing of God.
The puritans and fundamentalists of the first two centuries of America also held these beliefs, that God’s will was supreme and lives were predestined since before the foundations of the earth. But instead of acquiescing to a life outside of their control, they sought to actualize God’s providence by being some of the best workers, entrepreneurs and producers the world has ever seen.
Why? I’m not sure. I find it fascinating that two can respond to the same set of circumstances and belief in fate with diametrically opposite behavior. It seems to be the difference between, “If God wills, it will come to me,” and “If God wills, he won’t stop me.”
I settle up to the table for another meal of bread and vareniye, the jam that graces a Kyrgyzstani’s table at each meal, and ah! there it is: a dish of raspberries, preserved during summer months of plenty for the harsh of winter when no fresh produce can be found. It’s the perfect daily reminder to choose joy in those winter seasons of life and to remember that truly, “Life is a raspberry.”