The Soup of Life

The Soup of Life

Sometimes deep thoughts pop into my head while I’m cleaning the house. Cleaning day just so happens to coincide with blogging day; how convenient.

During Yule, a friend of mine started a new tradition. For each day of the holiday, he would keep a stew boiling. He invited friends and family to visit, partake of the stew, and add ingredients to enrich it. It’s a fitting ritual; Yule is a time of rebirth. After the longest night of the year, the Sun returns, born anew. Yule is a time to shed the old and look to the new, to celebrate the life we have led and look forward to the new year, as though each is a fresh start.

I thought of his stew this morning. It seems to me more than a celebration of a holiday. It could be a metaphor for life.

We are all unique. We start our journey with our own broth; our unique mixture of dreams, skills and interests. Some of us may be sweet and some of us may be savory, but all of us change as we grow. Life is a series of experiences, and our personalities, our stew, are a combination of what we take with us from each of those experiences. We may find onions as we overcome one hurdle, or carrots as we choose a path at a crossroads. We add them to our broth and slowly, over time, they affect the flavor. They begin to shape the way we look at the world and the way we make decisions.

‘Chicken soup for the soul’ has never seemed so apt a term. But the metaphor goes deeper.

Whenever we prepare a meal, we want it to taste good. A new recipe is always a trial, and we’re never certain how it will turn out until we take the first bite. Life is a never-ending series of unexpected events. So how do we make our stew turn out the way we want?

There’s that story about the wise man telling a young man that two wolves live inside him. “Which one wins?” the young man asks and the answer is; “the one you feed.” People spend a lot of time arguing over the origins of the story, but I think they miss the most important point; the dominating attitude in our lives is the one we nurture. It’s remarkably easy to have a bad day. All you have to do is start listing the things which have gone wrong and more come to mind. They pop out of the fabric of an afternoon and, pretty soon, the whole day has been hideous. It can be a lot harder to focus on the positives, to make a list of all the good things your day contained when you’re not feeling great. But focusing on the positives makes it a lot harder for the negativity to sink its claws into your brain. And if you make a habit of focusing on the positive side of things, you find you remember more good than bad.

Life is a rollercoaster. The greatest lows often follow ecstatic highs; probably because you have that much further to fall. The key nugget is what you carry away from an experience. The ingredient you add to your stew when all is said and done. Even negative experiences can teach us positive things. When my basement flooded with sewage, for example, I learned that I was capable of handling a lot more than I ever thought I could. I also learned that disasters aren’t often as bad as we think they will be. And finally, I learned to be flexible and do creative work even when I thought I couldn’t. All wonderful ingredients to enrich my stew.

One of my favorite quotes is “life’s a journey, not a destination.” We may pass through several intended destinations (and many more unintended ones) on the road of life, but we always remain in motion. We always move on to the next thing, whether we want to or not. And the overarching goal is always to accomplish whatever we set out to do, be it writing novels, opening a business, raising our families or any combination of desires. When we reach the end of the journey, we want to know we’ve left something behind, something that will enrich the world even after we lose the ability to do so ourselves.

A great man once said, “You are never really dead until the ripples you caused in the world fade away.”

So craft your stew with care. Lovingly season with the spices you consider most important. Share it with your family and friends. Pour your heart, soul and passions into it. Spread it around the world. Make people want to share it after you’re gone. Make certain they remember the taste, recall the ripples, try to write down the recipe. What we take with us matters because it’s also what we leave behind. Leave a stew that illustrates how much you loved life.

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