Pressure and Patience: Putting Toothpaste Back in the Tube

They looked at me like a nut-job when I said it. But I was dead serious: “Oh, you can refill a tube of toothpaste,” I said with a strange confidence. “Yup, that’s right; I do it all the time.”

I was talking in a stairwell with two fellow Jesuits. We travel a lot, and in these days of hyper-security we can’t do that with a normal sized tube of toothpaste in our bag. You know the problem. I was explaining how, instead of paying extra for the sample sized tubes, I just purchase the normal sized ones and refill one or two ‘travel’ tubes for my travels. They looked appalled. “Brendan,” they said, horrified, “that goes against the old saying. You know: ‘It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.’ The whole point of the saying is that you can’t do it! It’s impossible and frustrating!”

They say that you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, but I know that this isn’t true. I do it all the time. It’s sometimes messy, often difficult, but in the religious life, the life of faith, a life that is sometimes messy and often difficult, all things are possible.

They say a lot of things, whoever they are. They say that some lives are worth less than others. They say that ours is a story of death and nothingness. They say lots of things. But I say shove it. The truth is, even in this mess of a world we live in, faith triumphs and I know from experience that you can put toothpaste back in the tube.

My friends, I assure you that this old saying, like many old sayings, may be a good anecdote to describe the difficult or the frustrating.  But I assure with equal fervor that it’s just not true. You can in fact put the paste back in the tube; it just requires equal parts pressure and patience. Try this: Blow into the empty travel tube so that any remaining paste is pushed to the bottom. Gently squeeze the now air-filled tube from the bottom until you’ve pushed all the air out and the remaining paste reaches the opening. Place the full tube firmly against the mouth of the “empty” tube and, applying appropriate pressure, squeeze gently… slowly… don’t forget the patience… and voila!

Ok. So I’m not claiming that you can put any random pile of paste back into the tube; that would be ridiculous and messy (really messy, I’ve tried that too… kidding). But the point is: don’t let the saying keep you from the truth. I know it to be true – you can put toothpaste back in a tube.

Sure there are frustrations in life, but we can’t let that stop us. All things are possible with a little imagination and the right combination of pressure and patience… just don’t forget the patience.