Walking on Eggshells
Published in Meridian Magazine, April 2010.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell which encloses your understanding. –Kahlil Gibran
Easter Sunday; conference Sunday. Two of my younger sons, Matt and Sam, were chomping at the bit for more festivities. So far the weekend had been a hybrid celebration of both occasions: chocolate bunnies to gorge on, plus the usual “let’s eat junk food while we listen to the prophets” buffet. At least today would include glazed ham and several other actual food items.
“When are we going to crack the eggs?” Sam asked hopefully.
“As soon as everyone is awake,” I said.
Matt groaned. “That’s going to take forever.”
Good point. Used to be that all the kids would be up before dawn on Easter Sunday. In fact, my two oldest sons would get up in the middle of the night to guard the Easter story cookies we make on Saturday evening and leave in the “sealed tomb” (oven secured with scotch tape) until morning. Those tomb sentries are now teenagers who sleep way past dawn on weekends, even holidays. I didn’t want the older boys to miss the fun, but from the television downstairs I could hear the beginnings of the pre-conference broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. We needed to get moving, with or without them.
“Let’s do it,” I told Matt, who promptly ran to get the paper carton from the refrigerator.
Eggs: the traditional symbol of life. We’d hard-boiled a dozen the day before, then dyed them using a kit like the ones I remember from childhood, the dull-hued tablets releasing vibrant color into the plastic lined up on the counter, the pungent vinegar stinging our noses. Using the clear wax crayon included in the kit, the kids drew designs on the hard-boiled eggs before dipping them. This year’s batch had an international theme, thanks to Elizabeth’s AP World Civ class and the little boys’ coincidental WWII obsession. Sam produced a “Germany egg.” Matt created thick stripes to match the French flag, and Elizabeth expertly produced a gold hammer-and-sickle on a deep red background.
“Okay, get ready!” I said, opening the carton of dyed eggs for the kids to choose from. Once everyone had a weapon in hand, we squared off for the traditional Easter game I learned in my Greek Orthodox childhood. Matt and Sam paired up, as did sisters Elizabeth and Christine: right elbows bent, eggs held aloft, faces determined.
“Christos Anesti!” they chorused in Greek, striking their eggs together and laughing at the crunch of collision. Examining the shells, the kids with intact eggs cheered aloud, while those with cracked eggs sighed and chose an unblemished spot for the next round of play. Whoever had the egg with the fewest cracks at the end of the game would be the winner.
“Christos Anesti!” Again and again they made the pronouncement—Christ is risen!—and whacked eggs in midair, the breakage symbolizing the Savior’s victorious emergence from the tomb. My daughters moved their tense arms deliberately, eyes fierce, every firm tap of shell carefully calculated, while Matt and Sam smashed theirs together with abandon, sending bits of blue and yellow and green shell in every direction. (From the corner of my eye I spotted the deep red of Elizabeth’s Soviet egg still in the carton, untouched, while the carrot-orange egg in her hand suffered severe casualties. In reply to my questioning look, she quipped, “I opted to use a buffer state.”)
When the bits of shell stopped flying, I surveyed each player’s egg determine the top contender. Some years there would be a clear winner—an egg with no cracks, or perhaps with one of its tips slightly dented. But this time around all of the eggs looked pretty bad, each shell webbed by a network of cracks, or actually shattered in pieces. The French flag had been obliterated to sparse patches of red, white, and blue. The buffer state wouldn’t be buffering anything for a good long while. And from the looks of things, Germany had been soundly defeated by the Allies.
Thankfully, the kids didn’t seem to care who won, so I called a stalemate and put them to work peeling the remaining shell off the smooth, hard-boiled surfaces. Some of the eggs got eaten right away, sprinkled with salt and coarse pepper, their whites stained with errant splotches of dye. Once the kids had their fill, shooed everyone out of the kitchen, fetched the broom and dustpan, and turned to face the fallout. Crumbled eggshell, mostly white-side-up, littered the entire surface of the kitchen table, interspersed with eggs in various states of nakedness; chips of colored shell were scattered to the far corners of the room like confetti; several hard-boiled yolks had rolled off the table and been (of course) stepped on, their firm spheres smashed to thick smears of dull yellow.
In the suddenly quiet kitchen I could again hear the MoTab broadcast downstairs. The morning session of conference would soon begin, and I didn’t want this mess to be waiting for me afterward. So I got to work, first wiping up the smashed yolks before I stepped on them myself, then clearing the table of casualties. The stained, damaged, partially-eaten eggs left behind looked nothing like their pristine counterparts in the refrigerator. Shoddy symbols of life, one might say. Yet as I piled them into a plastic container, I noted that they offered a much more accurate depiction of human life. Maybe as newborn babies we embody the perfection of an untouched egg. But the constant taps, jabs, and outright blows of mortal life (with no buffer state in sight) make short work of that ideal. More often than not, the lives we try so hard to keep so tidy end up looking like the chaos on my kitchen floor; we find ourselves walking on eggshells in order to avoid disaster. And even if we manage to hold all our pieces together, it won’t do us any good in the end, for redemption comes only as we offer to God the ultimate in pain and mess: a broken heart.
The triumphant strains of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus drifted into the room from the TV downstairs, signaling the conclusion of the pre-conference broadcast. Swiftly I swept the last few pieces of shell from the corners of the kitchen, amazed by how context can transform meaning: in terms of the egg-smashing game we’d just played, each pastel-colored bit of shell was a tiny token of weakness and failure. Yet a shattered condition means something very different in light of Christ’s victory. We may think that the person who dies with the fewest cracks wins the game, but the lesson of Easter is this: nothing can emerge from an unbroken shell.