So, there I was, talking to one of my younger brothers and he was telling me about this story from his childhood. He explained how our mother had made and baked one of her chocolate cakes from scratch so the boys could have something special in their lunch at school the following day.
Mom had always prepared the lunches the night before, so he had spent the whole night thinking about how great it would be to experience the reward of mom’s handmade chocolate cake complete with amazing chocolate icing for dessert the following day.
The boys even talked about how special this day would be thanks to mom’s cake which was safely secured in a Tupperware container inside their lunch bag. In fact, today’s lunch would have three lock-lid plastic containers inside.
Finally, when the school’s lunch bell rang, my brother grabbed his lunch bag and hurried to the lunchroom, where he unpacked the Tupperware containers and lined them up. First, he opened the sandwich container and there was the main dish, an excellently crafted peanut butter and jelly sandwich, made just he way he liked them.
After he finished the first course, he moved on to the round container that contained quite predictably, apple sauce, which he consumed slowly to add to the excitement of the soon the be enjoyed chocolate mom-cake.
Now the time had come. The cake was clearly too tall for the container because he could see the frosting inside the lid of the container which was another special treat. He would first eat the cake, then lick off the icing from inside the lid in that final glorious moment.
He cracked open the cake container only to discover applesauce inside. Panicked, he raced over to find our younger brother to investigate his sack lunch, maybe he had two pieces of cake, and maybe there was still time to retrieve one of them. He was in a hurry because our younger brother was more likely to devour the cake first.
He got there in time and popped open the younger brother’s cake container which also contained applesauce. It turns out that the stepfather had gotten up in the middle of the night, and eaten the entire chocolate cake as a midnight snack. Still unsatisfied, he cracked open the kids’ lunches and raided their lunch cakes as well, replacing them with apple sauce.
As my brother told the story, he was expressing to me a tale of a simple story of a young child’s heartbreak and the moment when he began to see his stepfather as a potentially disruptive, if not evil, influence in his familial life.
In contrast, what I saw in this story was a descriptive predictor of my younger brother, the man he was even at that young age, the man who would grow up to be, and the man who sat before me, telling me this story in the restaurant.
Even at that young age, this younger brother understood the concept of delayed gratification, not unlike the marshmallow effect. His plan was to move through the meal in successive order with every bite leading the way to the anticipated cake, leaving the frosting for last.
This is how my brother has approached all things in life and still does—diligently moving through life, one bite at a time, doing the work necessary, saving the best for savoring last.
This is clearly demonstrated by the near-miraculous success stories that permeate his adult life.
I am inspired by my brother’s cake story, and I think we all could learn a lesson from it. Not just allowing ourselves to be so tied to an expected outcome, so much that our little hearts are broken, and we are devastated because someone blindsided us, but to move through life, like my brother eats his cake, when he actually gets to.
Much later in life, he did get his cake and he got to eat it too, but that is another story.