The other day at work I was alone in the staff lunch room preparing a Healthy Choice tomato-basil panini to put in the microwave. As I slid it out of the package, it slipped onto the floor, face down, splat. I laughed and sighed, "Great." What was I going to eat now? I had nothing else and it was going to be a long afternoon and I was hungry. So I glanced behind me to make sure I was still alone, I reached down, scooped it all off the floor, remade the sandwich, and popped it in the microwave. And then I ate it.
This reminded me of my student teaching days in Logan, Utah. I was working under a master teacher who was a white-haired, sweet little old lady, one year away from retirement, named Mrs. Jensen. It had become our custom to go get our food from the cafeteria and bring it back to the classroom and eat lunch together and discuss my progress. One such day, I loaded my tray up with mashed potatoes and gravy, peas, jello, and chocolate cake, and returned to the classroom ahead of Mrs. Jensen, who needed to stop at the office for a moment. I put my tray down on the edge of the counter to wash my hands. It was too close to the edge, and the whole tray flipped off the counter and went splat! Face down, all over the industrial carpet. I was mortified. What would I do? I didn't want Mrs. Jensen to see what a klutz I was. I was trying to impress her! So I quickly scooped it all up back onto the tray, mashed potatoes, gravy, jello, and all. I then cleaned up the carpet the best I could, but it left a very tell-tale brownish wet spot. And I scrambled to the front table and sat down, picking up my fork, putting my best "Nothing happened. Nothing at all," face. Just then, Mrs. Jensen walked in.
She sat down and got situated to begin eating. She glanced at my tray, and her eyes locked on it. My mashed potatoes and jello were intermingled. There was gravy on my upside-down chocolate cake, which had peas embedded in it. Then she looked over at the floor. Then she looked at me.
"Jason, did something happen? Did you drop your tray?" she asked tentatively.
"Hmmmm? No, nothing happened. I'm fine."
"Well, it looks like you dropped your tray."
"Oh, well, sometimes I like mixing my food around like this. It's kinda weird. Just a quirk of mine." I instantly regretted my lie and cover-up, like a punch to the gut.
"You can go back to the cafeteria and get another tray."
"No, that's okay. No problem. I'm fine."
By this time my face was redder than the jello. My scalp was prickling in shame. Tears welled up in my eyes. And I shoveled peas covered with chocolate frosting into my mouth.
A few weeks later, Mrs. Jensen gave me superior ratings on my final evaluation. And I could never drive past that school again without remembering the day my lunch tray, and my self-respect, went splat!