The other day I was reading Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, an engaging look at a day in the trenches of a fine dining restaurant in New York, and I came across this passage:
Cooking is an exercise in kinetic awareness, economy of movement, mastery of the senses. You can smell when a sauce is scorched; you can hear when a fish is ready to come off the plancha. You must trust these senses to help you through the night. Your whole body must remain active. No matter what recipes you know, no matter how much experience you have, each piece of fish in each pan presents a unique set of circumstances to which you must react, based on the sensory information at hand in the moment. You must take what you have before you and make something lovely out of it. And while it might be the same thing every day, it’s something new every second.
That last sentence resonated with me.
While it might be the same thing every day, it’s something new every second.
Most of us don’t lead wildly exciting lives. Our days are full of routines, schedules, rote activity and what feels like mundane existences. We perform tasks in order to pay for what we’ve been led to believe are necessities of life, we fulfill obligations and responsibilities, we hang on to ideas of stability and contentment and security. If we’re lucky.
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But we’re also taught, perhaps even manipulated into thinking that contentment equals the mundane, that stability is akin to stagnation, that to be rote is to be staid. We are encouraged to get out, to try new things, to expand our horizons, to dare to dream and to reach for the stars.
None of these thoughts are totally right and none of them are completely wrong. It’s a delicate balance that each person has to determine for themselves, between holding steady and going for it. Each of us must constantly weigh the pros and cons, the pluses and the minuses; consider the benefits and the consequences, and then either take the leap or follow the path more traveled.
Most of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle, at least for great chunks of our lives, where what we must do out of necessity for ourselves or others may not be what we wish to do had we had no constraints. Many of us feel powerless to effect any kind of change in our lives, we feel trapped by our circumstances. We either look forward and think “is this all there is?” or look back and wonder, “what was the point?”
If only we could learn to say to ourselves, “While it might be the same thing every day, it’s something new every second.”
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This saying speaks of two things to me. The first is that, when broken down, every day really is different. The smaller the scale of the difference, more the varied life becomes, and the more there are opportunities that may radiate out from the sphere that is any given existence. Like a handful of pebbles thrown into a pond, the ripples that result might not make it to the other side, but they do have an effect. And who’s to know how far that effect will travel? Standing in line at the checkout counter of the local grocery store, I may be a nameless, even faceless customer to the gal who rings up my order, but if she looks me in the eye and smiles and makes a comment based on the being who is standing before her, it makes me more tolerant of the person on his cell phone who cuts me off as I drive out of the parking lot or more comfortable with the sudden construction being done on the street that causes me to detour from my well traveled route back home. And I’d like to think that the smile I gave her as she hands me my receipt, along with a heartfelt “thank you” with the hope that she has a good day may make up for the next person in line who thinks only of the next place they have to be and not that there is a person on the other side of the conveyor belt who has feelings and dreams and hopes despite her tired feet and her once again having to search for the per-pound price of organic peaches.
The other sentiment is that you never know where the next moment in time may take you. That market cashier may be the next Dickenson, the next Mozart, the next Chagall, waiting for the right moment to shine. She may also love J.R.R. Tolkien or also have a golden retriever waiting for her at home, she may have a grandmother sinking into the haze of dementia, and therefore be someone akin to me, a resource to share, a talent to admire, a friend to claim. I met my husband because I chose to take my shoes off and lounge barefoot on a lush campus lawn instead of heading straight back to my car as he just happened to walk by. I happened to walk into the Humane Society on the day that the Mighty Belle became available for adoption and because of that, her loveable, sweet demeanor (and my obligation to her well being) brought me to becoming a regular at the dog park where I have met other amazing and wonderful people, from graphic artists to cleaning ladies to college professors to retirees, all with their own stories and diverse personalities.
Yes, chance happens; sometimes within a split second – this is called “living in the moment”. I’ve never liked that phrase. It seems insufficient to our more purposeful selves, as if we could simply cast off who we were and have no thought of who we will become; I don’t like being parceled down to one speck of time. Yes, I know the term is meant to convey spontaneity, but even that seems frivolous to someone like me who has always carried around responsibility like armor.
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Which is why I think I’m drawn to acknowledging that even within the mundacity of everyday life, there is the potential for incredible diversity in each second. That even though life may not be perfect, there can nevertheless be perfect moments in life that keep us going, that move us forward, that give us hope.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful thought that bears repeating: while it might be the same thing every day, it’s something new every second. And to think that I stumbled on it by chance! Not from a self-help book, not from an online posting on “How to Live a More Bountiful Life”, not from a cleverly wrought tattoo festooned across a recalcitrant shoulder, but from a book that I picked up because I like watching Iron Chef on TV. But even that seems fitting. In one second, something new.
Thank you, Mr. Gibney! Maybe tomorrow on my way back from the dog park, I’ll stop at Patisseries 46 and splurge on something unthinkable in your honor, like their renown Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Millefeuille. That certainly would be something new!
~ Sharon Browning
(This Gimbing in the Wabe was, for the most part, originally posted in 2014.)