Wisdom is found in interesting places. Some enjoy the wisdom passed down through their families from generation to generation. Some travel to distant lands to seek it from solitary men living on mountain tops. Some search for it within the pages of holy books while others seek it from the natural world. I once found wisdom sitting unnoticed on the table of a greasy spoon hole in the wall restaurant in Clarksville, TN.
In the section of Clarksville known as St. Bethlehem, there used to be a building directly across Highway 79 from Trenton Road. It has since been demolished, but it was a small strip mall of sorts. It had an odd trapezoid shape with the widest section facing the Highway. A Dollar General store occupied the center space. On the left was the St. Bethlehem post office (where many people came to mail their Christmas cards), on the right was a third space that never seemed to stay the same business for very long.
When I was twelve or so, that third space contained the Kandy Kitchen (home of the Mega-Burger). It looked run down-ish and was wedged in to the strange triangular end of the building. There was hardly any seating, my mother would never describe it as clean, you probably would not want to know its health score, and we loved it. The Mega Burger was truly something to behold, a gigantic hand-made patty of greasy goodness that never failed to satisfy.
We ate there often, mostly due to its convenience and Dad’s fondness of such establishments. Even though we went fairly regularly, it never stop feeling like a special treat. While we waited for our orders, I would usually play around with the condiments sitting on the table or possibly flip through the Jack Chick tracts stacked there. I was arranging the various sweeteners by color in their small ceramic tray when I happened to notice the sugar packets were imprinted with little sayings.
I went through all the packets and discovered that there were four different sayings. Three of them seemed fairly generic and forgettable, but one caught my notice. As I read the printed blue words I was filled with a sense of sudden understanding. I picked up the packet and felt the crystals shift in the paper between my fingers, then slipped it in my pocket. I was amazed by the words and wanted to keep it. Looking back, I’m a little amazed that my young self had enough sense to realize the importance of something so seemingly insignificant.
I’m sure some may find the message of that sugar packet somewhat less profound than I do, but it has often informed my actions and relationships. The simple message was this:
“Never explain. Your friends do not need it and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.”
When I read that, I realized that people who truly knew me did not require long explanations for my behavior. They trusted in the power of our shared experience and the knowledge that comes from actually knowing someone. If I acted poorly, they wrote it off as a bad moment or day. If I didn’t speak, they assumed I didn’t see them or was lost in thought. They assumed the best of me because they were my friends.
The flip side was just as freeing. I no longer had to worry about explaining myself to people who didn’t like me (I still try sometimes of course). There was no point in wringing my hands with worry trying to explain because they already assumed the worst about me. I wasn’t going to change that, so I didn’t need to worry about it.
The best part of discovering that bit of wisdom is that it gave me permission to let my true friends no an explanation was not necessary. There have been many days over the years that I found myself in the position of a friend apologizing for poor decisions or behavior. Telling them the reasons didn’t matter, that our friendship was the important thing only brought us to forgiveness more quickly. It is a joy to remind a friend that they are a friend and explanations are not required.
I carried the packet around with me for several years. I kept in my wallet for a long time until the edges started to tear. It followed me to college and then into marriage. I’ve lost track of it, but I know I still have it. I hope to come across it someday so I can out it on display in my home, mainly because I am truly amazed at just how much that one sugar packet has sweetened my life.
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