I was having dim sum with a couple of new friends in Chinatown in NYC. And literally the second thing that arrives at the table is a big ol’ bowl of chicken feet.
“You don’t have to try them,” Kenny told me. “But I grew up on them in China, and I find them delicious.”
I’m sitting there, and 43 years of experience with eating food is telling me not to swallow a chicken foot. But these were Christian brothers I was sitting with. NYU isn’t exactly swarming with Christians, and we had purposefully found each other to meet up for lunch.
So maybe, I figured, since God had brought us together, and also God had created chicken feet, that this was all part of His perfect plan – to spend an afternoon eating the feet of His creatures.
“Yeah, I’ll try a chicken foot.”
Kenny was already nibbling on one.
“You gotta be careful. There’s not much meat. It’s mostly a bunch of knuckles.” He picked a knuckle out of his teeth and dropped it on the plate. He paused to examine the red chicken foot pinched between his chopsticks. “I’m not sure why I like them, now that I think of it.”
So I asked God – who can do all things – to make chicken feet taste delicious. Then I picked up a chicken foot with my chopsticks and proceeded to take the single smallest bite I have ever taken in my life.
Bam. Chicken knuckle. Right in my mouth. I imagined Jesus next to me, shrugging, going What are you gonna do? They’re chicken feet.
“You got a knuckle, didn’t you?” Kenny said, waving his chicken foot at my chicken foot.
“Yeah, I got a knuckle.” I scraped the knuckle out of my mouth. “I don’t think I like chicken feet.”
“A lot of non-Chinese people don’t.”
Years ago, I probably would have forced that chicken foot down. I would have lied about liking it. I felt obligated, all my life, to not only try new foods, but to appreciate them. Because that’s what people do, I thought – they try new things and they appreciate them.
When the truth, friends, is that I have no interest in food. I have eaten the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day for four years straight. When I go out to a restaurant, I order a cheeseburger, because that’s what I like to eat.
“Get some variety in your life, Conor!” people say. “You always order cheeseburgers! Try the snapper!”
You try the snapper. I don’t want the snapper. Get the snapper, you want the snapper so badly.
Recently, though, I had a breakthrough. I told Liz I had always felt obligated to order things in restaurants that I didn’t want for the sole purpose of appearing a little less weird to the world. She told me, quite simply, that I never had to worry about that stuff with her.
And somehow that felt like freedom. After 43 years I thought it was time to be okay with who I am. So here are…
The Top Five Things that I Felt Weird About My Entire Life that I Have Come to Accept:
1.) Being an Introvert.
I am not quiet. I am not shy. I enjoy public speaking. I just don’t really love being around people. Liz knows I can only do one social thing, max, on a weekend. And even then I have to go into an empty room and stare at a wall when it’s over. I daydream about being snowed into a remote cabin. (Liz does not share this daydream.)
2.) I have the Bladder of a Sea Monkey.
This is not an incontinence issue – it is purely a mental one. My kids are almost 9 and 7 and they can go on four hour road trips without stopping. Me, I will use the restroom before getting into the car and then have to turn around to use the bathroom again before I buckle my seatbelt. Before I get into bed I probably run to the bathroom five times, afraid that I’ll need to go in the middle of the night. It’s a psychological need that I cannot explain, this desire to be close to a bathroom. It’s like I’m the child of divorced toilets.
3.) I am Terrified that I Will Toss my Wallet off a Bridge.
If I’m walking across the Golden Gate bridge, Liz could be pointing out the spectacular natural beauty of our surroundings and all I’m doing is gripping my wallet like a junkie praying I don’t whip it out of my pocket and hurl it over the side of the bridge. I’m walking faster and sweating, just praying I make it across. I haven’t actually done it yet, but let’s just say I try not to walk over bridges.
4.) I Defend the Honor of Inanimate Objects.
You could point out a neon green upside down house with purple gargoyles hanging off it and say “That’s a bit odd” and I will immediately find ten ways why that house is not only not weird, but why I would actually love to live in it. I have defended the smell of the chemical plants driving down the Jersey Turnpike. I defended a rusted bicycle frame chained to a street sign in New York City. I have defended an empty lot in Bridgeport, CT. It’s like you’re insulting my kids.
5.) I Can’t Have Sticky Hands.
Nobody loves sticky hands, I know. But I cannot have sticky hands. I could be starving in the desert and you come along and offer me a tangerine, and I would ask you, with a final, hoarse, parched gasp, if you wouldn’t mind peeling it and putting it into my mouth so I didn’t have to get my hands sticky. If my kids are sucking on lollipops in the back seat of our car I will drive faster to try to get away from them. I will touch something sticky if, and only if, I am already standing underneath a waterfall when you hand it to me.
I’m sure there are more than those five.
The point is that there are real, legitimate things that I have to work on. I want to be a better dad and a better husband and a better friend and a better caretaker of people. I want people to think that I am different because my faith calls me to be radically loving and generous in a way that stands out – and lemme tell you, I’m not even close on that front.
I will persist in these things because they are worthy of effort and change and sacrifice. But that also means being okay with the fact that I won’t be sampling new cuisine or walking across bridges or eating clementines. God gave me free will, and I’m going to use it. Mostly to not eat chicken feet.