My parents had been in town for a few days, and for their last night I decided to make my speciality for dinner… Falafel. I have THE BEST falafel recipe (thanks to Chef Danny of Culinary Kidz). It truly ruined my entire family for any other falafel anywhere. Light, crispy, perfectly seasoned. Wrapped in a pita with Israeli salad, humus, and hot sauce, it’s a slice of heaven!
So there I was, falafel mix ready to go, standing over a pan full of oil, making little balls to drop in. One went in and the familiar sizzle hummed in the air. The next one… oil bubbled happily. The third one… uh-oh. For some reason the falafel were dissolving in the oil! I tried making the balls larger. No go. I tried smaller. Failure. My family members started giving me advice — add water? Check the ingredients? Wrong amounts?
“No!” I told them (I hate to admit, rather rudely). “I’ve made this 1000 times before. There is NO reason why this should be happening.” So I kept on going. And the falafel kept dissolving. I glanced at the recipe. I had done it all correctly, so I just kept going as if somehow the next batch would work. Nothing did. We ate “falafel flakes” for dinner that night.
I’m not proud to say that I kind of panicked standing over my stove. I didn’t want to hear advice. I didn’t want anyone else to take over. I didn’t want to abandon the dish. There I was, wanting to do something special for my family, but my plan was falling apart (literally). The lack of control over the melting meal made me crazy. It was if something tried and true was slipping through my fingers, and it was making my head spin and my whole mental computer go haywire.
It was just falafel, for goodness sakes, but somehow it felt like more.
I think many of us feel overwhelmed when things don’t work out as planned. It can be as simple as a dinner that is ruined, as disappointing as a vacation that gets re-routed or cancelled, as life- altering as a divorce, or as tragic as a shooter in a Parisian theater. But in every situation, we find ourselves saying over and over again, “This isn’t how it is supposed to be!” We fight the reality of the present, and in that state, it is nearly impossible to imagine a solution.
No time does this happen more, I think, than during the winter holidays. The turkey gets burned. We miss the meal because we came down with the flu. The cousins won’t stop arguing. The weather goes bad. And our children drop cranberry sauce on Grandma’s new, white carpet. Dinner is terrible, the family is screaming, the kids are crying, and we want to holler, “This isn’t how it is supposed to be, damnit!”
Yup, we get so married to our expectations, it’s really tough to encounter the opposite. We all know that the pictures in magazines of happy families around Thanksgiving tables, Chanukah menorahs or Christmas trees are just that… pictures. Sometimes family time is that peaceful, but often, it ain’t. Yet we are continually so disappointed by our ideals being lessened that we can’t think clearly or see the forest from the trees. We can’t see the positive. We can’t see the humor. We can’t see a solution to our disappointment that may be right under our noses.
Can I tell you something embarrassing?
After my “falafel flakes” were all done, and we sat down to eat whatever was salvaged from the pan, I took one more look at the recipe. I had glanced at it several times during my culinary nightmare, but I decided to give it one more peek.
I had forgotten the *#% @&#* *}~¥!?@ eggs! How had I missed that?
If I hadn’t been so darned stubborn… If I hadn’t allowed myself to get so twisted up about some little falafel…
If I had listened to my family’s advice, I would have turned off the oil, slowly read the recipe again, added the stupid eggs, and dinner would have been fabulous. But I didn’t. I was too busy denying the reality before me and willing it to be something it wasn’t.
I’m glad I learned this lesson over a dinner and not something more important, but there is no doubt that life is going to send me many more of these little tests, and next time, if I remember to keep my head on straight, I may be able to help myself and others think through a much more serious situation.
So as we enter this holiday week, soon to be followed by many more, let’s welcome when life-lessons come with minimal distress. Let’s practice with the small stuff. When your plans get ruined, your expectations are not met, your flight is cancelled, take a deep breath, and remember my falafel. Walk away from the moment, maybe step outside for a little air, and make sure that what you need to restore your inner peace isn’t actually right there in front of you.
Maybe you just need a couple eggs.
Shabbat Shalom, my friends. Have a safe and (relatively) happy Thanksgiving.
Cantor (8 weeks from being a “Rantor”) Diane.
Save the date for our next Cool Shul Shabbat, December 4.