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Letter From America: Forks, Spoons And Knives

Be to her faults a little blind;
Be to her virtues very kind…

Little things, such as the arrangement of knives, forks and spoons in a cutlery drawer, can annoy the orderly mind. But as Ronnie Bray sadly discovered, such matters are a mere nothing when the person who did the “misarranging’’ is no longer there.

The radio was playing Slowcoach. The singer’s plaintive voice coming to terms with the fact that his beloved did not possess the grace of punctuality. Still, he loved her and such was the depth of his affection that he promised to change his way to hers, although there would be a better outcome if he could persuade her to be on time. Well, I decided, that’s love. Then I thought about what I had made myself accept instead of trying to change one who I loved dearly enough to bring about change in myself rather than trying to force her to meet my requirements.

My thoughts turned to Norma, remembering just two things out of her whole life that used to irritate me. Her leaving the cap off the toothpaste was a minor irritation out of which I quickly talked myself. So, I got to eat a mint every time I followed her to the tube. Big deal, so what!

The cutlery drawer was not so easily disposed of. I can’t remember how we stacked the knives and forks when I was a child: we probably threw them all into the same drawer and sorted out what we needed when it was time to tie on the feedbag.

But in the army I was taught, under pain of strange and unusual punishment, to line them in the order of procession used by all English speakers: “Knives, forks, and spoons.” Plain and simple, no discussion. Something to do with Queen’s Rules and Regulations and the Army’s Manual of Discipline. However, Norma's arrangement was Forks, spoons, and knives!

Kit inspection, that plague and bane of my military life, required a spotless white hold-all to be laid out towards the foot of the bed with a series of items laid out in strict military order from which there could be no deviation: “Knife, for, spoon, razor, comb, and lather brush,” ran the sacred litany. Like most things to do with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, the ceremonial was absorbed into my bones as surely as the soot-laden air of industrial Huddersfield was during my babyhood and childhood, and just as surely it became an integral part of my being and disposition.

Looking into our kitchen drawer day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, I told myself that in the unlikely event of Norma being taken to her eternal rest before me, my first independent act would be to put the cutlery in its proper sequence, thus to ease the tension generated in me every time I slid the drawer open to select an implement for culinary or ingestionary purposes.

In the meantime, after mentioning it to her a couple of times, and being told quietly but firmly that that is how she had always had them, I abandoned the topic. I figured that it was of small moment compared to our love, respect, good times, and friendship. It is the little things that get in the way of true love, but only if we let them stay long enough for them to fester. Nothing and no one must be allowed to mar true love, and that is the great secret of a truly happy and lovely life.

Before I could comprehend it, Norma was taken from me. Something remarkable and rare was gone from my life, and I was the worse for it. I descended into a whirlpool of memories and emotions that drew me ever deeper into its dark swirling vortex of confusion, hurt, and denial. My Mormon faith assures me that death is not the end and that I will be reunited with my eternal companion when I pass from this life and follow Norma. Yet, like the rest of the human family, I experienced the pain and bewilderment we share when we lose a loved one to the sudden clutch of death.

The next time I opened the cutlery drawer, I remembered what I had told myself in jest, only it no longer seemed funny. Nevertheless, I left the cutlery in the Norma Order of forks, spoons, and knives because it fondly reminded me of her and made me smile. Perhaps it is only when we have lost a cherished one that we understand the selfish banality of what it was about them that we allowed irritate us. If we are wise, we will not wait until they are gone to decrease our vexations to zero. We can if we try, and, if we love them enough, enough we will.

The poet, Alexander Pope, wrote:

Be to her faults a little blind;
Be to her virtues very kind

If we adopt his advice, we might also be led to consider what Jesus said about being forgiven in the same way and to the like degree that we forgive what we perceive to be the failings of others.

Only thus, he cautioned, can we escape the reproof of the Great Judge when we stand before Him to explain why we could not love enough to overlook open tubes of toothpaste, and the insignificance of a cutlery drawer arranged by forks, spoons, and knives.


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