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French Fries and The Meaning of Life

People make money in a lot of different ways in Mexico. One way that you see quite often down by the beach is for parents to take out their youngest and cutest child and to have them walk up to tourists with a tray of small candies or gum and ask for five pesos in return for one of the treats. It’s a little like reverse trick or treating with commerce involved.

One night, I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant, eating what was possibly the worst veggie burger I’d ever had, when I was approached by the cutest little girl on the planet, who was carrying one of these small trays with assorted candies. She was probably no more than four years-old and she had eyes as big and as deep as the ocean. When she walked up with her tray and turned those blinkers on me, I was helpless. A puddle. I selected some Chiclet-like gum from her tray, then gave her five pesos and a hearty “gracias” for her offering. But after the transaction was over, she didn’t leave. Instead, she gave me a big smile and pointed at my french fries.

After a quick glance at her dad to make sure it was okay, I gave her a french fry and I had one myself. I made a big deal out of enjoying it…making “mmm…mmm” sounds and rubbing my belly like it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. She thought this was really funny and joined in. We sat there goofing off like this for three or four more fries and then her father let her know it was time to push on. Before she left, I handed her the bag containing the rest of my fries and she skipped off to join her father and to show him her treasure. As they were walking away, I saw her offer her dad a french fry (which he took and made a big deal out of enjoying just like I had) before they joined hands and disappeared down the street.

It was so sweet that it made my heart hurt. Not because I felt sorry for their financial situation, or because I wished I could have helped them more (that’s automatic). My heart was hurting now because I realized that, after all my years of beating the bushes for meaningful experiences from life, it turns out that there is little that is more meaningful to me than sharing a french fry with a four year old.

I mean, if you’re looking for the meaning of life, one doesn’t have to go much further than that. The innocence and playfulness of a kid, the love between a father and daughter, the making the best out of a difficult situation, the simple joy of tasting a french fry. It’s all there, if…and this is key…if you are awake to how deep the small moments like this can be. That’s the difference…and that’s why my heart was hurting now. I was mourning the loss of all the moments like this I probably missed because I was looking for something bigger. Something earth shattering.

We humans spend a lot of time chasing meaning like it’s some big, external, mysterious thing…but is it really? Is the secret of life, the universe, and everything some huge and unfathomable riddle that we never have a prayer of solving…or is it the joy of a little girl, the love of her father…and some potatoes, fat, and salt thrown in for good measure?

I’m siding with potatoes.

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