One watched basket

I think I was in middle school when I discovered my mom’s yearbook from 1973, the year she graduated from high school, and was fascinated. All of these young women with long hair and different ways of flaunting their free spiritedness, each one feeling like she owned the very parcel containing the wedge of world she saw in front of her and preparing to inscribe a gift tag to the universe in her own personal penmanship! I saw all of this and only sort of understood it. What I really didn’t understand, though, was the quotation my mom chose for her senior page: “Put all your eggs in one basket and…watch that basket.” (She attributes it to Mark Twain.)

I recognized that this was a reworking of the idiom “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, which traces back through Don Quixote and perhaps even finds its origin in a Latin proverb. This one, to me, seemed much more pragmatic. It just makes sense, right?! If you spread your eggs among several different baskets, and something untoward befalls one of your baskets (like a stampede or an avalanche or a bandit or a fowl kidnapper or simply being dropped from a height), you’d still have some eggs left to carry home for your breakfast. I was perplexed as to why my mom would subscribe to the risk of potentially losing every last one of her eggs in the event that something should compromise the welfare of her singular basket. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to proactively cut one’s losses by meting out one’s wealth of eggs in hopes that at least some of them avoid sacrifice?

I think the wisdom of Twain’s reversal of Cervantes’s idiom really became clear to me this past spring. I’m not saying Cervantes was wrong in his assertion not to “venture all his eggs in one basket,” because 17th century thinking was certainly a far cry from today’s. And the earlier Latin proverb “Venture not all in one ship” makes a whole lot of sense considering the risks involved with sea travel inherent in those days (I’m looking at you, Aeneas). But now, in the year 2020, I completely appreciate the Twainism, especially as it relates to pandemic life. Back in March, we decided to create a closed circle with one group of precious people so the five kids and four adults involved could interact worry-free (or as close to that as humanly possible), prioritizing the kids’ social and emotional health and making it easier to stay careful and safe with others whose circles we couldn’t trace. This basket we wove, out of trust and hope and research and a great deal of consideration and discussion, both suspended and buoyed our families throughout the summer while we watched it in all of the ways we needed to ensure its optimum integrity.

I think what I couldn’t fully appreciate as a young person reading that quotation–the only one my mother chose for her senior page–was that if you only have one basket, you can actually watch all of your eggs at once. If you have multiple baskets scattered all over the place, either you’ll be constantly looking from one to another, rapid-eye movement style, or you’ll be always on the move, nervously checking on basket after basket, never questioning the assumption that it’s preferable to pour all of this energy out piecemeal in an effort to salvage a little bit rather than dispense the same amount of energy into focusing on and maintaining one whole lot? With many baskets, while your attention is on one, none of the others can be properly watched. This way, sure; you can ensure that you’ll have at least the eggs in whichever basket you happen to be attending in a given moment, but you could lose any number of other unsupervised baskets in that same moment. It would feel like frantically juggling while worrying about each ball as soon as it leaves your hand. Wouldn’t it be more peaceful and sustainable to weave one really strong, sturdy basket, nestle your entire clutch of eggs comfortably inside, then rest your full and steady, slow-wave gaze upon it?

P.S. This might be my all-time favorite photo of my mom. I’ve always loved it so much that, when it came time for me to graduate from that very same high school 25 years later, I used this photo of her as one of the images on my own senior page.

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