I went to the grocery store the other day to buy something for dinner.
“What should I make?” I asked my son, Evan. “Whatever is available,” he said. “Of course!” I thought.
I almost felt excited. Maybe a little bit like those chefs on the cooking shows who are given certain ingredients to come up with a meal (except that I don’t have a pantry stocked up with staples and every spice known to mankind).
This was the way I felt when I was five or six years old and would go to the market with my grandmother, Nana. We would walk through the rows of wooden tables on which the farmers arranged their freshly picked vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and nuts.
These weren’t the neat piles you are imagining – the kinds you often see in pictures of France’s storefronts, with complementing colors and perfectly shaped produce. No, these were small and messy heaps of whatever was in season and ripe that day. There wasn’t a lot of it, since this was all grown on small, organic, family-owned farms.
Nana wasn’t an early riser, which contributed to our limited choices at the market. We were never in a rush. After she made her selections, we’d sit down at one of the many cafes for a cup of espresso.
I would sit next to her and admire our baskets, eating a strawberry, a plum or an apple, depending on the time of year. On our way home, we would stop at the butcher or the fish market. Fresh bread and milk were always bought in the mornings at our local corner store and bakery, so we didn’t need to pick those up.
Thinking back on it, the amount of food that Nana bought was small considering the fact that she fed five people. We shopped for food daily and never bought huge amounts of anything. We had a small fridge, a small pantry (which was filled with jars of home-pickled peppers, along with baskets of beans, potatoes and onions) and no freezer.
Nana made delicious, satisfying dinners. Magically, there was always enough for one more person, in case an unexpected guest shows up at the door.
I remember rations in old Yugoslavia – when oil, flour, sugar and coffee were hard to get. But I don’t remember worrying about it or being scared.
Maybe it was because I was too little to realize the seriousness of the situation, but maybe it’s because I also remember my Mom, Dad and Nana smiling through those hard times, always repeating an old Croatian saying:
“What’s never been has (somehow) never been. What won’t be will (somehow) never be.” (Nigdar ni bilo da nekak ni bilo, i nigdar ne bu da nekak ne bu)
Perhaps that’s where I learned to make do with whatever is available.
So when Evan suggested I get whatever was available, I felt the strange familiarity of an “I got this!” attitude.
I walked into the store expecting empty shelves. And yes, many of the shelves were empty. But those were the shelves I don’t usually shop from anyway.
I noticed piles or beautifully arranged cabbage heads, leeks and bunches of kale and collard greens, spinach and pencil thin asparagus. They all sat on the shelves ignored by most of the shoppers.
I bought what I needed for the next three days (even in America I have been shopping daily, but now I want to limit my ‘virus footprint’) and returned home feeling calm and grateful for the abundance that I carried in my (reusable) bag.
The ability to bend and work with what’s available is a gift!
I often see kids (and grown ups) set up expectations where every detail has to be exactly how they imagined it. I’ve done this myself in the past too – once, I planned an Easter dinner and when I couldn’t find my favorite serving platter, I fell apart, threw a fit and pretty much ruined the day for everyone!
I am not an expert on social behaviors, but I learned that this is a part of our human nature that likes to be in control. Planning every detail and making sure it happens exactly how we want it to happen gives us the sense of control we actually know we don’t have. We are all aware (on some level) that life has a flow that we don’t get to force into a narrow channel.
The magic we get to create is in making the best with what we do have available and to enjoy it. Make a lemonade (when life serves you lemons), or a delicious leek soup (when you get to the store late and everything else is gone).
Trick your brain into believing that this is exactly what it had in mind, and you won’t look for reasons why you should be disappointed, resentful or afraid.
Evan’s senior year is pretty much shot. What he (and his classmates) had planned for months so carefully and with so much excitement is never going to happen. Never again he is going to be a HS senior. Pretty sucky. But this guy has done some serious inner work in the past few years that’s now helping him process all this mess and stay positive, excited and unafraid.
“This is so delicious! Thank you, mama!” Evan said as we ate. It was a simple meal, but he complimented it with such joy and gratitude you’d think I took him out for a dinner at some super fancy restaurant.
We all have a challenging road in front of us.
How are you going to take what’s available and turn it into something beautiful and positive?
Hint: The key is to go with the flow. Be responsible, follow the recommended guidelines, put some extra kindness into the world, and let this roll out like a bad storm…without putting yourself or others in unnecessary risk. Staying calm can actually help you get through it more easily.
Keeping a positive outlook and mindset can help support a healthy immune system.