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Meditation on Leftovers

By the Rev. Gordon McKeeman, reprinted from Out of the Ordinary with permission of the author. Copyright (C) 2000 by Gordon B. McKeeman. Published by Skinner House Books, an imprint of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Sometimes I enjoy cooking. I've discovered that one of the greatest of culinary skills is making new creations out of leftovers. It takes imagination. It takes a little skill with spices, herbs, and sauces. The achievement of a satisfying and palatable meal from leftovers can be a model of how one might conduct one's own life in a creative way.

The first thing you need to do is open the refrigerator door. You'll see an assortment of things: containers, jars, bags, boxes, and things wrapped in foil, waxed paper, or plastic.

Now I invite you to open a different door, the door of your past. What you find there will be leftovers, too. You will probably find your [family's] voices, their admonitions, perhaps their praise, maybe their blame, their warnings, some expressions of their love, their anxiety. You may find traces of their uncertainties, problems, and hopes.

You will rediscover some decisions you have made without thorough understanding of the consequences: about leaving home or not leaving; about when you decided to be married or not to be, or both, and to whom. You will probably remember some of the jobs you took, some of the jobs you wanted but didn't get, and some of the ones you thought about and turned down. You will also find some circumstances, accidents, diseases, and the times you were born into and lived through. You will find your family and some of its ways, its heritage, its customs, the habits that were funny or odd and are somehow deeply ingrained and make other ways seem even odder than your own. You will find people who touched your life in a thousand unaccounted and unexpected ways, who were there at special moments and changed you or made you a gift: the gift of a smooth stone, a happy day, or an unforgettable experience. And there will be all the ruins, sorrows, guilts, regrets, along with the fears and the hopes, dreams and doubts, forgivings and forbiddings. Don't we have crowded refrigerators! Every one of us, such a collection of leftovers... .

Welcome to the world where we all cook using leftovers—some of us with imagination, some with creativity, some merely resenting the task, some thinking that there is no possibility in it. Add the secret ingredient. Something will come of it that will be at least edible, probably even palatable.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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