Early this morning I was caught lying to a Customs’ officer. After standing in the long line at the Philadelphia Customs, my children and I finally stood in front of the officer, passports in hand. The officer took a look at our Customs’ form and asked: “Did you bring any food with you?”
“No,” said I, thinking guiltily of the piles of chocolate in my bags. And then, before I could bat an eye, my secret was out.
“That’s not true,” corrected my son. “We have plenty of food.”
Exposed! “Chocolates,” I hastened to reassure the officer. And I pulled out a gumdrop bouquet the children’s grandmother stuffed in my bag.
“That’s not true,” the child once again intervened. “We have lots of other food too.”
Every time I go through Customs I have the same dilemma. Are not the officers searching only for agricultural products, like veggies and fruits, and not packaged chocolates? Arguably, however, all are included in their chosen word, “Food.” I once honestly responded to the question with a yes and found myself having to unpack half the suitcase in order to show the Agricultural Inspection officer that there really was nothing there except for chocolates and a jar of jam.
Despite the fact that I really do believe the Customs’ people are not looking for travelers smuggling candy into the USA, I felt ashamed this morning in front of my children and the officer. I had been caught lying, and surely the Lie Police was on its way, long years in a maximum security federal prison, and perhaps — for who can tell how serious lying to Customs really is — the electric chair.
So yes, we had lots of food with us: chocolates, kinder eggs, gumdrops, peanut M&Ms, marzipan, crackers, and even (dear deity of the Customs save us) some packages of nuts. I was guilty (almost) as charged. But we didn’t have any fruits, vegetables and seeds. It was just a white little lie!
To lie or not to lie? The critical part of me demands total honesty. I should have checked the Yes box for Bringing foods to the USA, and explained about the chocolates. A practical part of me waves this concern away: “This is mere semantics! Why answer yes when you know you don’t have what the officers really search for?”
I write these thoughts to you and am reminded of Usui’s fourth Reiki Precept: Be honest in your work. Is it dishonest to lie to the officer about having chocolates? Is it dishonest of me to use my understanding of what the officer’s question means and answer my interpretation instead of his actual one?
The officer this morning was merely amused by my exchange with my son. He accepted my chocolate correction to my earlier lie and did not require us to go through any more inspections. Considering how awkward I felt to be revealed lying like this, though, I think the answer to my question is clear. To lie or not to lie? Next time, I will answer the food question with an honest, “Yes, I have food.” And if we get sent to stand in line for the Agricultural Inspection, well, so be it. It’s yet another opportunity to practice acceptance and patience and an abundance of time.