Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'How They Eat in Heaven'

I just finished reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver this week. One of the best passages tickled my fancy for human decency and thoughtfulness and intentional living, and now I am going to share the parable with you:

'How They Eat in Heaven' is the title of Chapter 7, wherein is found this story:

Transcribed text found at:

Turtle, wielding a chopstick in each hand, had managed to pick up a chunk of pineapple. Little by little she moved it upward toward her wide-open mouth, but the sticks were longer than her arms. The pineapple hung in the air over her head and then fell behind her onto the floor. We laughed and cheered her on, but Turtle was so startled she cried. I picked her up and held her on my lap.

"Tortolita, let me tell you a story," Estevan said. "This is a South American, wild Indian story about heaven and hell," Mrs. Parsons made a prudish face, and Estevan went on. "If you go to visit hell, you will see a room like this kitchen. There is a pot of delicious stew on the table, with the most delicate aroma you can imagine. All around, people sit, like us. Only they are dying of starvation. They are jibbering and jabbering," he looked extra hard at Mrs. Parsons,"but they cannot get a bite of this wonderful stew God has made for them. Now, why is that?"

"Because they're choking? For all eternity?" Lou Ann asked. Hell, for Lou Ann, would naturally be a place filled with sharp objects and small round foods.

"No," he said. "Good guess, but no. They are starving because they only have spoons with very long handles. As long as that." He pointed to the mop, which I had forgotten to put away. "With these ridiculous, terrible spoons, the people in hell can reach into the pot but they cannot put the food in their mouths. Oh, how hungry they are! Oh, how they swear and curse each other!" he said, looking again at Virgie. He was enjoying this.

"Now," he went on,"you can go and visit heaven. What? You see a room just like the first one, the same table, the same pot of stew, the same spoons as long as a sponge mop. But these people are all happy and fat."

"Real fat, or do you just mean well-fed?" Lou Ann asked.

"Just well-fed," he said. "Perfectly, magnificently well-fed, and very happy. Why do you think?"

He pinched up a chunk of pineapple in his chopsticks, neat as you please, and reached all the way across the table to offer it to Turtle. She took it like a newborn bird.

Summary found at:

Estevan tells a story. He says that in hell, people sit around a big table with plenty of food, starving to death because they must eat with long-handled spoons and cannot manage to get the spoons in their mouths. Heaven, he says, looks just the same: same table, same food, same spoons. But in heaven, the people use the long-handled spoons to feed one another. Estevan demonstrates by feeding Turtle a new piece of pineapple.

1 comment:

  1. as i recall, this was the first of her books i read, & i thoroughly enjoyed the way she wrote. she does have a way with words