Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Gumbo of Life

I was talking with a dear friend this morning. Well, okay, I wasn’t talking. I was sending a message via Facebook. I understand that it’s not the same, even though a large segment of the population seems to think it is. People have virtual conversations with virtual representations of other people, some of whom they’ve never met in real life, and call it “talking with a friend.”
Still, I was communicating with my friend, Micheal Elliott, concerning something he wrote. Micheal is a great writer and I urge you, if you haven’t, to check out his books. You can find them on Amazon and at other purveyors of fine literature.
Today, Micheal was talking about his love for Tybee Island even though it isn’t the same place it was when he wrote Running with the Dolphins. Nothing stays the same. Change is the only real constant in the human universe.
Change comes to all of us. It doesn’t matter whether or not we want it, welcome it or make war against it. It’s going to happen. Some of the changes may be pleasant for us. Many of the changes will not. When they do come, we are bound to look behind us and find that the reflections of days gone by have a flavor that is bittersweet. There was a wonderful taste to the first forays into life, learning and love. They were special times. We learned about ourselves and the things we could do. We fell in love for the first time. We left home for the great big world. We traveled to places we’d never been before.
Somewhere along the line, we began learning about ourselves and the things we couldn’t do. We discovered that there were things we weren’t allowed to do. Someone broke our hearts. Maybe we broke someone’s heart. The world was not what we had been promised.
Sometimes I look back. Maybe I look back to often, because I like the sweet. I want to recapture what was and make it into what is. That doesn’t work. No matter what I do, the nature of the world remains as it is. Serious. Painful. Uncertain. We just can’t tell what’s in the mix for us and how it will taste.
When I was a child, my mother would occasionally make gumbo. Gumbo is a strange concoction from Louisiana. It looks like something that you would throw out because it was in the refrigerator too long and was undergoing some kind of strange fermentation/molding process.
I would come home in the evening and I’d smell something good from the area of the kitchen.
“What are we having for dinner?”
“Gumbo,” she’d say.
I would stroll to the stove and look in the pot and see something that looked like it should be in some wizard’s cauldron. I was not at all sure I wanted to try that greenish/grayish potion for fear that my stomach would rebel in a dramatic and painful way.
Chicken would be added to the mixture and maybe some smoked sausage. When it was done, the whole thing was served over rice. Amazing! It was delicious and I always asked for seconds. Who knew that this strange looking brew would be so good?
Life is a lot like this strange culinary masterpiece. Often it looks like a mess and we want no part of it. When we taste it, we find that it’s not nearly what we thought it would be and that there are a lot of ingredients that we enjoy.
Life simmers and occasionally boils around us. Sometimes it’s not what we expected. Truthfully, it’s rarely what we expect. The proof is in the tasting. We can long for the sweet taste of what was past. We can take offense at the bitterness that we experience in the present.
We can also, if we choose, use the flavors of the past that we love so well to season our present and become part of the overall experience. It won’t be just like “mom used to make.” It won’t be the sweet taste of remembrance.
But it may be something we can savor for a long time.