I was at a summer wedding the last time it happened. Humble pie wasn’t on the menu, but it was served nonetheless. There were eight of us sitting around the elaborately flowered table, the cobbled together friends and acquaintances peering at one another shyly from behind the voluminous floral display that dominated our little island in the vast, dark reception hall.
We were like contestants on a game show: How Well Do You Know the Happy Couple? Talk at first was limited to questions strictly involving the bride and groom. How did you meet? Who were they to you? A slender woman in her late twenties who looked disconcertingly like Veronica Mars (but let’s call her Contestant Number One) began to steer the conversation towards the present:
Contestant Number One: So, what do you DO?
Me: I write.
Contestant Number One: So, like, you make money at it?
Me: … that’s…debatable.
Contestant Number One: Like, that’s all you do?
Five years ago, I would have met these questions differently, with a sort of ironic shrug. “I’m an artist,” I might have said. “There’s no way I’ll be working at a desk job.” Present me was more reserved and a little embarrassed. Shouldn’t I be somewhere by now? Then a disturbing idea struck me: it occurred to me that I have no idea what I’ll look back on and laugh about five years from now.
Even more disquieting is the notion that it is impossible to know what will have changed in five years. What am I doing right this minute that will seem completely absurd later on?
I can think of one early occasion when I tried to bake a cake in Home Economics class. Remember Young Me? You might have met her in In Defense of Future Me. If you haven’t met before, let it be known: Young Me does some pretty absurd things. On this particular occasion, Young Me was in a big hurry to finish the cake before anyone else. Being first was oddly important. All I had to do was dump in the ingredient list…mix and bake. Right?
Sure, Young Me, sure.
What resulted was a mess of goo that strongly resembled a cross between dog slobber and that gunk that forms in the eaves troughs every fall after a rainstorm or two. My home economics teacher surveyed the “cake” skeptically and then cut herself a slice. I handed her a fork with trepidation and she took a bite. The look on her face slipped from polite disinterest to a rainbow of surprise, mild repulsion and finally settled on a classic: horror.
“How much salt did you put in this?” she asked me. By then, she had set the offending cake down onto the melamine counter and pushed it aside.
I shrugged. “Just what the recipe said to do,” I said. The class erupted into a giggles as I took a bite of my own humble pie (cake) and realized my mistake. One cup of salt and a pinch of sugar does not a tasty cake make. (You’ll be happy to know that I have since learned how to bake a cake that tastes like, well, cake).
The thing about humble pie is this: it might make you feel a bit small. But if you look back—if only for a moment—you’ll realize how far you’ve come. So maybe it’s okay to forgive yourself for being where you are right now. Sometimes, I think it takes a little humble pie to make you see the progress when you look back.