Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Last One Standing

Yesterday I walked into the office at school and our beloved administrative assistant was filling a bowl with this year’s first round of Halloween candy. Today as I passed by this same bowl, this is what I saw.
What is it about the last piece of any kind of food? I see similar images when I walk by the doughnut table at church on Sunday mornings. By the time the late service begins, one lonely doughnut sits on a platter that it once shared with four or five dozen friends. And sometimes, there sits only half of a doughnut. Someone really wanted that last one, but couldn't bear, for whatever reason, to take the whole last morsel of this sacred Sunday confection.

We have all been to parties where trays of hors d’oeuvres linger on the table waiting for someone to swallow their pride and eat the last one. Why is there this hesitation? Why won’t we just snatch that last bite with the same vigor that we do the first? Or the middle? Is something wrong with it? Is it the one that every other guest has had their fingers on? Is it the one that everyone but you saw as having a fly garnish only moments ago? Is it the one that someone carried around on their plate and then returned to the platter because they didn’t like it? Surely not. Or, maybe so.

Maybe this poor lonely piece of candy pictured above that has found its place as the jack-o-lantern’s nose is like that last kid who gets picked for the basketball team at recess. Nobody wants him on their team because he’s too slow, too short, doesn’t have the right shoes, or would really rather play hopscotch with the girls. Are any of these good reasons for exclusion?

Is this a case of “saving the best for last?” For instance, as the Christmas parade, passes by, anxious children wait while floats carrying paper mache snowmen and red and green clad elves roll by followed by marching bands playing renditions of those nostalgic tunes that we all recognize as heralding the holidays. Fire trucks cruise by. Horses prance past. Every now and then there is even an ambling elephant. But all most of these excited children really want to see is the last unit of the parade – Santa Claus. Nobody thinks of watching nearly the entire parade and then leaving before the final participant has made his appearance. In this case, the last is the best, at least in the eyes of all those children who are pretty sure that they have been nice all year long.

Last is a hard place to get a grip on. Sometimes being last is a good thing and at other times it is definitely not so good. And sometimes it is hard to know the difference – like in the case of having the last word.

And then we can wrestle with the idea that “the last shall be first.”

I think I will go have a piece of candy and ponder this one a little more.