Monday, September 09, 2013

In The Pursuit of Happiness: Life is like a buffet

I should have paced myself better at the salad bar,” mused my sister as she noshed on a small plate of chicken and green beans. Her words never rang true. In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories are of having lunch at a buffet close to my grandparents' house on the way to the Gulf of Mexico. With my hands greasy and my mind suddenly clear, I had an epiphany: Isn't life just one giant buffet? And what happens when we get to the end, to that almighty dessert table?

In life, you first learn to take baby steps. You slowly roll around on the floor; then when you're feeling a bit bold, you master crawling. Eventually, you move on to walking, but your steps are still cautious and baby-like. But they're nonetheless a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your childhood. Like walking, the salad bar -- full of its infinite varieties of lettuce, croutons, bacon bits and alluring, tangy dressings -- is the foundation to any good buffet meal. It's a classic. An oldie but most definitely a goodie. That lettuce turns out to be your foundation for the future. As you approach the teen years, you yearn to take risks, to step outside the lines and be known for something “out of the ordinary.” So what do you naturally do? You live dangerously, my friend. You eat macaroni and cheese by the plateful. You order the messiest, greasiest chicken, throw away the fork and decide to eat it with your bare hands. You even don't think twice about piling on the butter, cheese and sour cream into the center of your mammoth baked potato. You only live once, after all, you think, as you shrug your shoulders and add a second baked potato with the works to your plate.
Pretty soon, though, that fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, wild existence gets old. Very old. Very quickly. You crave something more substantial, brimming with more substance, more originality. So you reach for your corn breads, your turkeys (gravy only, no salt) and of course, your fresh fruits. Maybe you even throw a little sweet potato casserole in the mix. It's all comforting, making you feel as if you're sitting at home on your front porch sipping a glass of diet lemonade. Life is good. The sun is still high in the sky. You've still got life left in your body and soul, and when you reach a certain age, you learn to find pleasure in the simple things in life. At the top of your list is a nice after-meal dessert. Your eyes scan the table, perhaps growing bigger with each creamy, gooey cake your eyes spot. Coconut. Strawberry cream. Oreo. Carrot cake. The child in you says, “What the heck?” as you take a small sample of each, never neglecting to swirl a mountain of ice cream on top to complete the masterpiece.

As you savor every last bite of that dessert, you realize something profound. Life is not about the race or about sprinting or galloping to the finish line. Just like the classic buffet, it's about pacing yourself and having the patience to survey the whole horizon, taking it all in one very precise step at a time. One frame at a time. Take a walk around the buffet of life, and see where the wind might take you. My sister is a wise gal. I'm sure she'll pace her time better at the next buffet. And don't forget to eat your fruits and vegetables.

[Photos via We Heart It]

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