People Are Like Onions…..
Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.
I remember watching a video with my grandson and being struck by a line in the movie. The movie we watched was “SHREK” and the particular moment I am thinking of happened while Shrek and Donkey were heading to the castle to rescue Princess Fiona. SHREK, always the pragmatic and often gruff one (on the outside, at least), was trying to explain something about himself to his traveling companion, Donkey, ever the fanciful one. The dialogue went something like this:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions! [he holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers.
Now that line gave me pause….and I wondered about the history of it. And what I discovered was that it originated with American poet Carl Sandburg, who once penned this thought, “Life is like an onion, you peel it off one layer at a time and sometimes you weep.”(1) And he may well have learned this lesson at his Swedish mother’s knee. You see, as I well know, mother’s are famous for scolding their children using proverbs, such as it is better to take care with what you do than to rush through the task trying to get it over and done as quickly as you can. Remember “The Tortoise and the Hare”, one of Aesop’s Fables? Well, this thought is based on an old Yiddish proverb. “Life is like an onion. Why is life like an onion? Because you peel away layer after layer and when you come to the end you have nothing.”(2)
We all too often see only the outside layers of people and it is on this that we tend to base our opinions of the person. But people are generally not simply what we see on the outside. Take one look at my husband and you would never imagine him singing “Doo Wop”, but he did, still does and he is really good! He is also thorough, and has a mind like a steel trap. He is also kind and compassionate which is something he often hides from people. AND, he LOVES to put off until tomorrow anything that he should do today! And that, my friends, is, in four sentences, some of the layers that make up Dan! But, in the 41 years that have passed since the night we met, I have peeled off layer after layer of who he is. In fact, I have likely peeled off nearly all of the layers he has. And yet, I still don’t know (or at least understand) every single part of what makes Dan, DAN! That is something no human being is capable of. there is only one who can accomplish that task. GOD!
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV, answers this absolutely. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God was reminding Samuel of a very important lesson. Never judge a book by its cover, because, unfortunately, we humans tend to measure the worth of another by what we see. And that may well be our own fault, since it is we who choose what and how much we share about ourselves. But God sees all things with a different eye. You see, he bypasses the parts that are visible and he looks into the parts of us that are invisible…..our hearts and our souls!
And when all is said and done, when all the layers of our lives have been peeled, and there is nothing left but the essence of who we were, we need to remember that the part of us that the world will remember is not how much we weigh, or whether we are black or white or any other of the millions of pigments that are part of God’s canvass for our skin. What we will be remembered for is how we lived and how we cared for others in our world. It will be the content of our character that is remembered, rather than the shell that contained that character! And it is most definitely a part of us that we need to work on while we are alive and then we must share it when its impact can make the world we live in a better place!
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:9-11 NIV
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