The Ketchup Incident

You have enough time. I have to remind myself of this often. I constantly fight the lie of the world that says there is not enough time.

Because there is.

When I was Hannah’s age, 13, I started a quote book. One quote that I penned decades ago has been pricking at my mind and tonight I flipped through the yellow-edged pages just to find this:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time to change the world. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Gandhi, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci and Jesus Christ.” — Shannon L. Adler

These words have been rattling around inside my mind, bumping into that quote about enough hours in the day:

“Live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ.” — Paul, Philippians 1:27

What is a life worthy?

It’s the ketchup incident. 

Sam asked me, “Mom, did you hear about the ketchup incident?”

“No. What’s the ketchup incident?” I asked, pausing as I chopped the onion to start dinner.

“You’ve gotta hear this. Today I was opening one of those ketchup packets, you know the kind that say, ‘tear here then squeeze’?”

I nod, a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth.

“Well, I had to get ketchup for my hamburger, which I had to eat because you forgot to pack my lunch because Dad went to work early, but that’s okay because it turns out I like school hamburgers. That’s not the ketchup incident, but that’s an aside to the story. Teachers don’t like asides, but I think sometimes they make the best part of stories. But not this story. This story is good on its own.”

“So, the ketchup incident,” I redirect him.

“Yeah. I tore the corner off at ‘tear here then squeeze’ and I was squeezin’, but nothing was coming out. It was stuck. So I squeezed harder and just like that, the whole back of the packet burst open and ketchup came flying past my ear and hit my friend — splat — right in his face!”

Sam’s eyes were wide as he retold the story. “We were both laughing, because it’s not like anyone can ever plan for a ketchup packet to burst open on the wrong end. Except some of it went past his face and hit the grouchiest teacher in the school.”

Sam snickered.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We tried not to laugh, but I still got 5 minutes on the wall at recess. It’s not a big deal, though. I know there are some people who just don’t understand ketchup incidents.”

I laughed at his story and the sincerity in which he told it. Sam returned to building Lego creations. I went back to building dinner. His words hung in the air. Some people just don’t understand ketchup incidents.

Finally I asked, “What do you mean some people don’t understand ketchup incidents?”

He snapped another brick into place. “Oh, you know, Mom. Sometimes people forget how rare it is for a ketchup packet to burst from the back. And what are the chances it whizzes past my ear, but hits my friend? And he thought it was funny! It’s not everyday that happens.”

“So ketchup incidents are the things that don’t happen every day?”

“You got it. I like those stories.”

“But not everyone does.”

“No kidding. That’s why I ended up on the wall, but all I did was replayed the ketchup incident in my brain movie.”

He snickered again as he searched for a Lego piece.

He’s right. It’s the ketchup incidents that make life worthy. It’s about the things we chose to pay attention to, the stories we deem important enough to replay in our brain movies and tell again and again. It’s about accepting life as it’s given and to recognize that even if there are some bumps (like spending time on the wall), it is still worth it to accept the ketchup incidents as they happen.

Helen Keller put her hand under a stream of water.
As a young boy, Gandhi was so shy he ran home from school so he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.
Michelangelo didn’t want anything to do with painting the Sistine Chapel.

Mother Teresa questioned her faith at times.
Leonardo da Vinci had a reputation for not finishing the things he started.
Jesus turned water into wine.

Small stories that may seem insignificant. But they are not. They offer proof of perseverance, evidence of transformation. People who had enough time.

Here’s to living a life filled with recognizing it is the the ketchup incidents that make a life worthy. And to remembering we do, in fact, have enough time.

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  1. Oh I love the ketchup incidents in life! Sam has such a wonderful attitude about this and he's so wise…to get that not everyone appreciates them…I love that. Thank you for sharing this. I, too, will never look at a ketchup packet the same way. (I kinda want to keep one on my desk as a reminder!) Here's to a day filled with Ketchup Incidents!!

  2. Such a great story and theme, “Some people don't understand ketchup incidents.” Here's to taking notice and being lighthearted! Ketchup will become a key word in your family lore, like a secret handshake for taking time to enjoy the special moments in life.

  3. Sam is wise beyond his years. I wish I had his insight on “incidents.” I love the way you feed the reader a story, such a gift!

  4. Thank you, Sam, for sharing your story. I laughed and laughed visualizing this incident. I love he asides too. Ruth, your words are refreshing, important, and just what I needed to hear.

  5. This makes my day…no it makes my week! YES…we all need to remember that THOSE kinds of incidences are the RARE and REALLY FUN(NY) parts of life. Sam is very perceptive!