June 4, 2023

The saying, “One rotten tomato can destroy the whole crate of tomatoes,” is not new to us.
The ‘rotten tomato’ normally pertains to a person who is deemed to have bad influence on others, so we try to avoid them, or worst, neglect them.
I was reminded of this saying when I was picking tomatoes in our backyard, and I noticed a good number of rotten ones. I thought of just throwing them away, so I whispered to them (FYI: I am one who talk to almost everything as if they were humans), “Sorry little ones, if only I picked you earlier.” However, instead of discarding them, I thought they can still be useful. So, I flung them one by one back to the soil as I continued talking to them saying, “Back to the soil you go. One day you will grow again to healthy and plump tomatoes for my kitchen.” As I was uttering those words, I suddenly remembered people who were regarded as useless and were not given chances to prove what they can do. At times, we even advise our acquaintances not to be with these ‘problem people’ because they might get ‘infected’ by whatever stupidity they have. I sat down quietly and allowed these rotten tomatoes to teach me something about life that day.
I saw at least four degrees of rottenness in these tomatoes which I compared with people whose lives are disintegrated.
First, were the partly rotten ones. These tomatoes can still be useful by simply scraping off the destroyed part. I can relate them with people who are beginning to lose direction and are being tempted to go the wrong way, but if they will be guided properly and be checked immediately, for sure, they will find their way back.
Second, were the rotten tomatoes that fell on the ground, smashed, but still have their seeds inside. I compare them to people who have gone through a lot of painful experiences and have given in to temptations. These are the people who cannot see their worth anymore. But the seeds in them are signs of hope and life. Just like the tomatoes, when replanted in good soil, nurtured and exposed to a good environment, they will give us a good harvest in the future.
Third, were the rotten tomatoes that were still attached to the stem but dried and almost nothing left in the inside. I compare them with people whose lives are shattered and no clear direction anymore, yet they are still holding on. Even if they are struggling in the inside, they still choose to cling on to life hoping that someone may come to their rescue. If they will fall in good hands and will be handled with care (just like the second group of tomatoes), they will grow and bear healthy fruits one day.
Finally, my attention was also caught by the tomatoes which were not only rotten, but completely destroyed. I only saw traces of them through the dried tomato skin. There is no way for them to be replanted. Unfortunately, we have heard a lot of people who are like them – too late to be saved for they have given up on life already. Perhaps, no help or no attention was given to them, or they were simply ignored by the people around them. That led me to my final insight that day – my role in the lives of these tomatoes. Could these tomatoes be prevented from being rotten if I gave them proper attention and care? My answer is yes. Just like what I told the rotten tomatoes, “If only I harvested you on time… if only I had been checking on you regularly…”
This story about the rotten tomatoes can be the story of anyone – a student, a friend, a family member, an officemate, a subordinate, a simple citizen in our society. In the same manner, we can be the plant grower or the farmer who, with our right decision and action, can still make healthy and useful tomatoes out of the ‘rotten ones’. —Jocelyn L. Alimondo