365 Grateful: lemons as a point of control

My friend Casey caught my eye the other day when he posted a screen shot on social media. It went like this:

  • Query: If fruits are produced by plants for animals to eat and spread seeds around, then why are lemons so sour?
  • MRedding: A lemon is not a naturally occurring fruit; it’s actually bred from a sour orange and a citron, the sour orange itself being bred from a pomelo and mandarin. So it’s not the product of evolution but selective breeding.

So, that’s interesting and educational. But then the creative improvisation of ideas began.

  • “So, life didn’t give us lemons?” asked Kyle the Scientist.
  • “The implications of the revelation are more important than I think we all realize,” mused Dayjavid.
  • TaxonomyofTaxes cut to the center of the sour delight: “When life doesn’t give you lemons you invent them yourself.”

Oh, let’s just unpack that. You invent them yourself. What does that mean to you? To me? To anyone?

First, it’s true: lemons are not a natural fruit, but a human-created variety, likely back in India, Burma or China. The grandparents of lemons are, as noted, citron and sour orange (pomelo + mandarin). By the 2nd Century AD, the lemon had made its way to Southern Italy and by the mid-15th Century was being cultivated in Genoa. Lemons even traveled precariously across uncharted waters to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, who brought seeds along for the ride.

Peter, Paul, and Mary knew about lemons. They even wrote a song:

Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet.
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat. (Will Holt)

Personally, I like lemons. Not to eat, mind you, but added to foods. And drinks. They’re unexpected, and I’ll be damned if I’ve ever bitten into something strongly lemony without involuntarily scrunching up my nose and squinting my eyes and puckering my lips as that splash of zest – of zip, tang, zing – explodes and expands my awareness. It wakes me up, or at the very least it shocks my taste buds into something reminiscent of the present moment.

Sure, it’s a great little fruit for drinks and pies and sauces and fish and all. So culinarily speaking, what a gift! But there may be a more meaningful gift for us, as Kyle, Dayjavid, and TaxonomyofTaxes suggest.

We’ve all heard this: “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade.” Now, that’s a trite maxim that may or may not make your lip curl in disgust or lift in a comforted smile. We’re barraged by stories and examples and beautiful photos with quotes artfully displayed: make the best of bad situations. Not that it’s untrue; it’s just overused. And it IS a little too simple.

Let’s face it: sometimes our world is crashing down – or at least rapidly losing leaves, sucking in the sap, and heading straight for a wintry hibernation – and such sunny advice simply ignites our fury. On the other hand, it’s also true that we can find ourselves in a spin cycle, stuck in complaint mode instead of gamely trying to regain our path, even if that path wanders a little diagonally for a time.

I think it may boil down to how we experience control. Either life (or someone) hands us lemons, or we bite into them on our own. Our control is either outside us or within us. We are either powerless or we hold the power. Most everyone is capable of both. It’s just that it takes awareness to consciously choose that internal control.

And that’s the revelation, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t like to be able to blame some external person or event – even the tartly beautiful lemon – when things go wrong? I suspect the reality lies somewhere in the middle: sometimes lemons drop unbidden into our lives, and sometimes they arrive courtesy of our own hands.

Humans have long placed blame for what happens on external factors. Capricious gods. Conspiracies. People who wield more perceived power. Gangly aliens who control the universe (OK, that was Men in Black). Basically, anyone who thinks or looks or lives differently than we.  After all, we feel a little better about ourselves if we can chalk something up to fate or to some higher power, or even governmental rules and regulations. Somehow, we just don’t feel so responsible to DO something about it.

I wonder. Perhaps this long-ago horticultural adventure with its modern-day musing is an almost perfect analogy for how we protect ourselves with a Lemony Teflon mindset. It certainly makes it easier to absolve ourselves from moving step by step to make changes or take action when we believe we are powerless to change life-given lemons. Still, I just can’t shake the notion that it also hamstrings. It makes me hobble along as a victim rather than resourcefully wielding whatever power I find within myself to choose my reactions and my actions. That’s what sees me through any lemon-tinted moment. It’s powerful. It’s graceful. And there’s a distinct sense of strength and accomplishment that buoys me up for whatever might happen.

What – or maybe how – do you think about control? Do you hold the remote for whatever comes your way? Or does someone or something else push the buttons for you? Where does your power lie?

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