Day 29: Life’s messy and that’s OK

Leading up to Thanksgiving, each day I will blog about what I’m doing to be more grateful. I invite you to join me in a Month of Thanksgiving, and to share your thoughts, observations, suggestions and ideas.

Day 29: Giving thanks for the imperfection of life

There are certain life events that seem to amplify our natural tendencies toward perfectionism — planning a wedding and hosting Thanksgiving dinner among them.

We pull out a Martha Stewart yard stick to measure our efforts and almost certainly fall short. In real life, most of us don’t have a staff of dozens invisibily helping and we won’t make five turkeys so we can photograph whichever one looks most perfectly golden, then Photoshop out any flaws.

In short, real life is messy.

Mark Bittman, one of my kitchen idols, wrote about just this in today’s New York Times in an article headlined “Thanksgiving Recipe: Just Chill.” In an interview with Time Out New York, he also spoke to the need to let go of our perfectionism:

What would you say is the most important skill to develop in the kitchen?
The ability to go in there and start. I am the least impressive cook you will ever see. I am completely without knife skills, I screw things up all the time. When I’m in the kitchen I’m not obsessively trying to create the perfect dish; I’m trying to put dinner on the table. Comparing yourself to the people who cook on television is like comparing yourself to Andre Agassi. If you can drive you can cook.

Maybe instead of beating ourselves up for falling short of an unattainable goal, we should celebrate the imperfection as a sign that we’re actually living life?

I once met a jeweler who’d made a couple’s wedding rings. The groom’s mother dropped the groom’s wedding band on the church steps, leaving a noticable dent. The groom later called the jeweler to have the damage repaired — and the jeweler refused.

No, he said. Every time you look at that dent, you’ll remember standing there with your mother on one of the most important days of your life. That’s not a flaw. That’s a souvenir of living life.

Our worst dinner party ever

When John and I were dating, we hooked up with four other couples for a supper club. We took turns hosting dinner parties, and when we came up in rotation, we decided to have dinner at my apartment.

I didn’t have a big enough table so we planned a backyard dinner with a Mayberry theme: fried chicken, potato salad, pie. We set up a borrowed folding table with a gingham plaid tablecloth and filled vases with pretty summer flowers.

Storm clouds were brewing over the first dinner party John and I hosted together.

Shortly before the guests were to arrive, the clouds rolled in. Big, black clouds. We rescued the tablecloth just before the rain started pouring down in great, heavy sheets.

Plan B: We’ll pack everyone around my small-ish table. Not ideal, but it can work.

The storm got worse and just as our guests sprinted through the deluge to the door, our power went out. That was a problem since I had an electric stove and we’d planned to fry the chicken right before eating.

Plan C: Somehow we discovered that our neighbors in the duplex had a gas stove and they graciously allowed us to use their kitchen to cook for our guests. They went out for the night and John got to work frying batches of chicken, which I shuttled over to our hungry guests.

On one of my trips over with a plate of hot chicken, I walked in to find two of the guests engaged in what I thought was a spirited conversation. Turns out the argument was hotter than the chicken, as one of the couples was soon storming out.

At least there was a little more elbow room around the table.

Except John and I couldn’t sit down to eat just yet. Our generous neighbors had simply asked us not to let their cat out, so predictably, she got out. In the pouring rain. And they were out for the night. So we had to go looking for a shy cat who didn’t know us at all and convince her to go back inside.

Finally, at the end of a night that just kept going like this, we sat on our front porch, eating watermelon soaked in vodka, still able to see our remaining guests only by candlelight. And we laughed.

There’s a Japanese concept called wabi sabi. As I understand it, it’s celebrating the beauty of imperfection. A blog post I found says:

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

This week I am working on giving thanks for life as it is, not as I wish it was or think it should be.

What so-called imperfection are you grateful for? Was there a holiday meal that fell apart but turned into a beloved family legend? Do you have a scar from a time you now think of fondly?

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Categories: food and drink, lifestyle

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15 replies

  1. Ahhhh . . . I remember that night. Well, part of it, anyway! LOL! You guys were always very gracious hosts!

  2. I love it – Nice piece Colleen! Reading this makes me think of all the wabi sabi things in my life – and they’re things I cherish, for sure.

  3. That night was a – how you say – ‘doozy’, and I will never forget it as long as I live. Sharing that fiasco with you, Colleen, is part of what cemented our relationship.

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