The Case of the Missing Tomato (AKA Fact vs Interpretation), by Kimberly Chatak-Nelson




It’s a mystery to me!  I looked outside and the first, the one-and-only tomato, on one of our two tomato plants, was gone.  It hadn’t quite ripened and I was going to give it one more day and then pick it.  I had thought about bringing it in a day early and letting it ripen inside, but I felt like if it ripened on the vine it would be tastier.

Now, it’s gone.  

I asked Cliff if he picked it.  He said, “No.”

We both looked at each other.  He said, “Did you pick it?” (I am not sure if he was serious or teasing.)

Now the “What’s happened.” is “The tomato is gone.”

The story that we tell about it is actually stories plural.  

  • An animal picked it.
  • A squirrel took it.
  • I’ve seen big rabbits around. A rabbit ate it.
  • A neighborhood child stole it.
  • Neighborhood kids have been canvassing our tiny deck garden for years, looking forward to taking that one-and-only, prized-by-me tomato.
And Cliff had another story: “Kimberly picked it, forgot she picked it, and ate it. Her memory isn’t what it used to be.”

There are so many different stories surrounding this “Happening”.  Ultimately, what’s “Fact” is that the tomato is gone. Simple.

This reinforces Fact vs. Interpretation, for me. I come up with stories about everything in my life.  I do that to feel complete about what I’ve experienced.  To solve the mystery. The story-making makes me feel better, gives me a sense of comfort in most cases, as I pick the story I’m going to promote to myself. There’s no comfort in thinking the neighborhood kids took it.  There’s comfort in thinking that a squirrel or a rabbit took it.  So, I develop a story around the “What happened.” so that I can feel better about it.  

And then … I take it a step further. I plan actions based on my favorite story.  

  • I’ll pick the tomato sooner, and let it ripen in the house, if we ever get another tomato.
  • If we ever get another tomato, I will put a tomato cage around the poor, sad plant.
  • If we ever get another tomato, I’ll eat it when it’s green.  

All these actions, that I’m going to take, are based on the stories I’ve come up with about the tomato. None of my actions may work if the tomato was taken by an omniscient, omnipresent fairy godmother who likes tomatoes, of any color and ripeness, and who is tiny enough to zip in and out of a tomato cage at any time of the day.  

It’s still a mystery to me.


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