I dated a guy one summer in college who was constantly using his teeth to open containers, untie knots in boot laces or to hold things. The first time I caught him opening a chip bag with his teeth, I snatched the bag out of his mouth and said, “No! Don’t do that.” Then I opened the chips like a normal human. He laughed. Then he furrowed his brow and with mock seriousness said, “Teeth aren’t tools.”
“Right. Teeth aren’t tools,” I agreed.
All summer I pulled knotted sweatshirt strings out his mouth or handed him a knife to open a stubborn package. Every time he would laugh and then we’d say in unison, “Teeth aren’t tools.” He might have been purposely sticking random objects in his mouth because he thought my reaction was hilarious.
Just a couple days ago I told one of my kids, “Teeth aren’t tools,” as he tried to rip a box open with his teeth.
My Resident Advisor my first year of college used to poke her head out of her room and say, “Would you like a snicky snack?” Then she’d hold a pretend sandwich by her mouth and make little smacking sounds. A few years ago, I was at the house of my friend, Alison, who lived a couple doors down from me in that dorm. Alison asked one of her kids if he wanted a “snicky snack.” Then she held a pretend sandwich and took a few smacking bites. I started laughing and said the name of our RA. Alison said, “I know. It’s so weird, isn’t it?” I laughed harder and admitted I do the same thing. Both of my kids ask for “snicky snacks.”
How much of who we are is just little bits of other people?
In fourth grade my cool friend Dorothy from California had really interesting handwriting. Her lower-case ds didn’t end on the bottom line. Instead of going up and then returning to the bottom line they flicked up. I practiced writing ds like Dorothy’s for days until I could write them that way every time. I still write ds that way. It just makes my handwriting even less legible.
There are times when we see another person do something that we admire, a pair of shoes we like, a joke they tell, a way of calling everyone “friend” that we consciously decide to take on. I remember the first time my friend Paige said, “Hi friends!” to a group of us. We had just started hanging out and I wasn’t sure if she considered me a friend yet. I lit up inside when she called me friend. I say that all the time now, hoping that maybe someone else who needs the reassurance will appreciate it.
But there are so many other weird things that we start doing without even realizing it, not even noticing it until seventeen years later. “Oh, weird. I just realized where I got that from.” There are so many things that we gain from others, a new favorite band, a new food, those light blue corduroys they encouraged you to buy. It’s weird to think about what sticks around even if the person doesn’t.
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. -Lawrence Krauss
But you’re maybe also little pieces of every person you’ve ever met and every song you’ve ever heard and every book you’ve ever read. We’re just recycling pieces of other people. We’re these messy mosaics of our dad’s inquisitiveness, our mom’s creativity, our best friend’s sense of humor. And all these little pieces rub off on us. Even the short-lived relationships leave things- a love of Pat Green’s music, a phrase you’re still repeating seventeen years later. Or maybe it leaves a negative space- “I’m never doing that like that person.” And all these little pieces are glued together by what? By your essence? The thing that makes you you, no matter what. You glue all these pieces together and make yourself. And it changes over time. Because you’re constantly adding and maybe subtracting things that are no longer useful, often without being aware of it. Pat Green is less applicable than it once was but “teeth aren’t tools” is still relevant.
It makes me wonder what other people have of me. What did they take with them? Hopefully it was a good part and not an annoying one. Hopefully it was the need to read biblical texts in context or a recipe I shared with them or maybe that I sat with them one day when no one else did.
Once you get going, thinking about all the weird things you do that came from someone else, you’ll realize there are so many little things that are not your own. In reality, “Teeth aren’t tools” probably came from that guy’s mom, legitimately telling him not to use his teeth to open containers.
If we’re all maybe just pieces of each other shouldn’t we be gentler with one another? That person is made of a smidge of you.