Potluck is a regular occurrence in many communities throughout the country. During a recent potluck gathering, observations brought a number of things to mind that I think, reflect the conflicts of life rather well.
First, just a few thoughts about Potlucks. When and where Potlucks originated generates quite a lot of conversation. Up here in Northern Minnesota, I think the Scandinavians, Norwegians, and Lutherans might claim it their idea. They are very very good at it along with lutefisk, lefse, and pickled herring! Some studies make an argument for Potluck all the way back to the early days of Judaism. But, where it actually came from we are not quite sure.
Second, the term "potluck" seems to be wrapped up in its 16th century English etymology in providing a meal or provisions for an unexpected arrival of a needy visitor or stranger at one's home; hence the meaning the "Luck of the Pot."
Potluck today in the North American context often is about getting together to enjoy one another, add variety to food selections, spread out the costs of providing food for large numbers of people, showing off one's best dish, and well, the list could continue.
My observation of many Pot Lucks over the years brings some of the celebrations of the custom as well as conflict often surrounding the event. Potlucks teach me much about the challenges of daily living. And, I call it Potluck Thinking. Consider:
Potluck Thinking - People Getting Together vs. Getting People Together
Usually a Potluck is for the purpose of people just getting together to enjoy one another's company. The joy of community, family, children, grandchildren, stories of new jobs, stories of old jobs, old men telling stories, old women telling stories, the newly married couple, the newborn baby, the recent death of a friend or relative, the latest town gossip, and then there is religion, politics, and opinions. People just enjoying people is a wonderful thing!
However, often I've noticed that Potluck can be more about people getting people together for other agendas. Once, a get together was agreed upon, and as people gathered and the meal commence a few individuals began to work the tables conversing about an issue in their organization. People began to become uncomfortable and as others grew angry, it put a damper on future gatherings. Potluck turned from an innocent coming together of friends and acquaintances into suspicion and apprehension of the next event. What was it really about?
Potluck Thinking - Appreciating vs. Showing Off
I always love to try just about everything on a potluck table. The smells, aromas, textures, tastes, colors, and presentations of a dish all interest me. I've learned that the best thing about Potluck is the time and effort one puts into preparing a culinary gift for a rather uncertain group of people. Sure, friends will partake, but so will visitors and strangers. The care and time going into a Potluck creation then, is to me, an admirable quality.
Potluck Thinking - Group vs. Individual
More than once I've witnessed a Potluck lose its people-value as an individual or group made the Potluck more about themselves than the many others at the event. Once I observed an individual who traveled to every table over the course of two hours to tell his version of what he considered a very important event in his life. As he interrupted conversation after conversation a woman spoke up demanding, "Simon, not real name, why don't you just sit down and try to enjoy the meal like the rest of us are trying to do?" Simon never picked up on the hint, and continued his pester-pursuit to another table.
Here's the thing I've learned from watching people come together at Potlucks. If you're a picky eater, and you're going to pick, complain, and fuss about everything from the timing, setting, decor, presentation, venue, and taste -- well, then perhaps planning a potluck is a stupid idea to begin with in the first place? And, if the event causes so much stress that people show up to the Potluck out of sorts, upset, or angry then maybe, perhaps, that kind of Potluck is not really such a luck of the pot after all? The luck of the pot really depends of the goodness of the hearts putting into the pot in the first place. Doesn't it?
Just My Thoughts,
Quite often people say something like this to me, "I feel like I am stuck therefore I feel like I am just not able to move ahead." I've learned that statement often means, "I am not happy where I am at right now, I need to move forward, but I don't know the way to move forward. How do I move from where I am currently to where I wish to be?"
Where Are You Now?
Perhaps this sounds a bit trivial or dumb. However, listening to many many people, my take is most people can't answer this question very well. Asking the question over and over again, only one in ten come close to knowing where they currently are in life. Maybe, they know what they do for work, what activities they are involved in daily, but knowing where they are in thought, mind, and desire often many don't have a clue.
While speaking with an owner of a large construction company in South Africa, Bryan, he looked at me and said, "Ah, I just don't know Don about this job?" Now from my point of view he was quite successful at what he did. Consequently he enjoyed a nice house, nice - very nice cars, good marriage, kids in very posh colleges, and surrounded himself with all the trimmings of success. Once I asked, "So Bryan, where are you exactly in your life right now." Dumbfounded with a shrug of his shoulders, he said, "I just don't know."
Now, my grandfather loved to drive. Accordingly, he sometimes drove one hundred miles to take grandma to lunch. Therefore, every summer my grandpa showed up at my mom's house. Raised by a single mother, there was little money for extras. Grandpa and Grandma ensured that my mother, myself, and five other siblings enjoyed a vacation every summer; oh, and snoopy our dog too!
Upon his arrival in his 72 Chevy Impala, the miracle began! Slowly and precisely grandpa packed all of our belongings. Fishing rods, fishing tackle, suitcases, games, food, drinks, coolers, baseball bats, gloves, footballs, and toys all went into the trunk of his car. It always looked like a miracle, how mounds of stuff all went into that trunk. Then the second miracle began. In the back seat of his four door Chevy, six kids and our dog loaded up. With mom in the middle in the front, grandpa in the driver's seat, and grandma in the passenger's seat that totaled nine humans and one dog all in one car ready for the three hour trip to Great Grandpa and Grandma's cabin up North!
Now more than one time during those early years of my life, I asked my grandfather upon embarking on our trip, "Grandpa how do we get up North to the cabin?" Grandpa always responded, "You first have to know where you're at right now before you can look to where you're going." My early year's response was, "Why?" Grandpa expounded on many occasions that before one looks to where one is going, one first must understand where one is. This he believed important for a number of reasons.
First, the moment is all one really ever possessed. "Know what you have now, because now is all you've got!" That didn't make much sense to a ten year old, but as I've put on fifty more years, it makes a lot of sense now. The past is behind me, and tomorrow is only a hope because all I am is right here, right now.
Second, knowing where you're at is important so you can know where you came from; your upbringing, roots, and origins. Grandpa thought this important. You are who you are because you come from where you came from, and you go to where your going because of where you are right now.
Third, if you don't know where you came from, you'll never know how far you've gone, and how far you still have yet to go. He used to tell me, "Buddy, if you don't know where you're at, then you'll not be sure where you are going, and you'll never be sure if you've arrived; really all you'll ever do is wander looking for somewhere else to go." With that he gave me the old road atlas map and put me to work.
So, where are you going today?
Just My Thoughts
The words repeat themselves over and over again, "It seems all I do is work. Work rules my life." Thinking through the work-jungle environments around the world, one can easily observe that life is often designed around work rather than work being designed around life. Several thoughts:
American Workers in Particular Work More Hours than Any
Yep, that is correct. In fact, the American way of life is focused around success! And, success means you work work work! This truth I've witnessed around the world by the "movers and shakers." Someone once said to me, "Yes it's tough at the top, but it's very crowded at the bottom, and the only way to make sure you're not stuck on the bottom is through work!" While many of us work more than forty hours per week for success, a good thing, more and more careers attest to seventy hour work weeks. With two income families these days, mom and dad often spend more time commuting to work, at work, and commuting home than they actually do with their children. Is it any wonder that so many families are in trouble these days? The question is asked often is, "Just when or how does one draw the line between work and life and life and work?"
Vacations are for Many a Rarity
As an overseas missionary worker helping some of the most needy people in the world in South Africa from 1984-2006, I often worked 24/7 nonstop. After about four years in Ladysmith, South Africa one of my new friends at that time, Keith, asked me a very insightful probing painful question, "Don, pronounced 'Dawn' in his accent, do Americans never take a holiday (vacation)?" I replied, "Yah, pronounced in my Minnesota accent, all the time!" Keith continued, "For the past four years, I've never known you to take personal holiday for either yourself or your family. Do you ever take a holiday?" Keith's friendship and concern for my welfare hit its mark, and as I began to change my lifestyle, holidays or vacations with my family became a regular scheduled event.
Vacations Sometimes are not Real Vacations of Meaningful Relational Time
A very close friend of mine shares it this way. Vacation by the time it's planned, charged on the credit cards, driven thousands of miles, booked into a half dozen hotels, spending a thousand bucks on eating out, staying up late every night, tending to the kids, and then driving 3,000 miles back home while the family sleeps the entire journey, and upon returning home I just go to work the next day - IS NOT A VACATION! I might as well just stay at work! And, he does!
Real meaningful relationship-building down-time vacations require thought, simplicity, removal of busyness, and meaningful interaction. Meaningful interaction, perhaps is not best served while answering emails, voice mails, text messages, and social media.
Picture Yourself at the End of Your Life
Having performed many funerals over the years, never once were the words heard from someone during their last few moments of life, "I wish I would of spent more time at work." Or, "I wish I'd work more hours developing my career." Or. "I wish I would have spent more time being successful." Nope, never once; not even close!
Recently, while visiting an old gentleman in hospice, let's call him Bob, he began to share his story with me. Having owned and sold several businesses during his lifetime, acquired quite a bit of wealth, living comfortably with great insurance and benefits he poured his heart out, "I wish I'd done a better job with my kids." He went on to explain in great detail just what a "better job" meant. You see, Bob spent most of his life influencing people in his business world - not his wife, family, and true friends.
Probably the most revealing moment descended upon me when he said, "You see Don, during the past eighteen months of my illness and now in this hospice not one of those people in my work-world visited me even once!" In fact, only a very few of Bob's relatives came to see him as he was estranged from much of his family.
Try Minimal Living
Here's what I've learned. We don't need near as much stuff to live happily as we think we do. Do I really need a big truck, new car, big house, expensive cloths, high debt, and all the rest of my stuff if it comes before life, spouse, family, friends, and happiness? Try getting rid of stuff, down sizing, reducing debt, decreasing hours spent in multiple volunteer organizations, and giving away stuff that just sits in boxes, basements, backrooms, sheds, and other places where things go to die a slow death from lack of use.
How Do We Define "Career"
For me, career is the totality of my life. It's who I am more than what I do. Career is my relations, my marriage, my sons, their wives, my grandchildren, my investments in people's lives, my generosity, my laugh, my pain, my sharing, my brokenness, and then my work figures into the equation.
For me, designing life around work ends in a disappointing career that was nothing more than work. This result I've witnessed a hundred times or more in end of life situations. However, designing work around life produces true meaningful, rich, and full lives. Now, that what I call a CAREER!
Just My Thoughts
Recently in the community which I live, three wonderful people were taken far before their time leaving many reeling from the loss. Beyond just an occasional passing in town, I did not know the individuals well personally. Yet, I do know rather well people who were very very close to these three, and who valued their friendships deeply. It is from my friends who were their friends that I gain insight of just how much our community is going to feel the ache from this loss for a long long time. As I contemplate the empty-hole left in many people's life at this loss, I am struck by just how meaningful true friendships are:
Your Lucky If You Enjoy a True Friend
For many, close friends are rare. Yes, there are always people around. But, to have someone you can laugh and cry with, share your pain and sorrows, and travel through this life together makes you a very blessed person . If you enjoy that kind of friend, you are indeed fortunate beyond many people. It was the famous Helen Keller, blind from birth, who said, "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking in the light alone." If you have one of those kinds of friends, consider yourself very very wealthy.
Put High Value on Your Closest Friendships
Over and over again during my short fifty-seven years of life among many cultures around the world, I've watched people lose focus on their friendships. Other less important trivial pursuits of life ouster friends into a far away place while less consequential activities crowd over busy lives.
I remember a conversation with a person years ago on this very subject. While listening to him speak of the busyness of his life, his cramped lifestyle, and his many responsibilities I asked him a question, "Frank, if your house was on fire and all your family made it safely out, and you could remove only one thing from your home before it burned to the ground, what might you rescue from the burning flames?" Without any hesitation he blurted out, "All of our photo albums of our family and friends!" That was back in the day before internet, Face Book, and all the other photo stuff we enjoy today. As I continued to look him in the eyes my obvious reply came, "So, why not clear your life now of most the other stuff, and put a high priority on your family and friends who are right next to you now in this thing called life?"
Many times people make decisions in organizations, relationships, and futures based upon a list of priorities with little consideration given to friendships and relationships. I've learned to keep my closest friendships a high priority throughout my life.
Be a Friend to Your Friend
Henry David Thoreau back in the 19th century removed himself from community for several years living by himself apart from people in total isolation just contemplating life. Concerning friendship he said, "The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend."
A story told me decades ago, whether it is true or not I do not know, was about a little girl needing a life-saving kidney transplant in the early seventies. Her eight year old brother matched almost a perfect donor. Everything was explained to the eight year old brother about how he might save his sister's life by giving her one of his kidneys.
As they laid side by side and preparations to begin the procedure were underway, the brother looked at his parents and said, "Bye bye mommy and daddy." His Dad a bit perplexed replied, "Hey buddy, we will be right here!" The brother replied, "Hug sissy for me." Puzzled, mom softly answered, "You can hug her for yourself." You see, the little brother assumed in his adolescent mind, that giving his kidney meant giving his life.
Friendship is always about giving more than receiving, and the more the reciprocal the giving to one another, the more deep-rooted friendships become.
The Fragility of Life Teaches Us to Value Our Friendships
I am often perplexed and dismayed over the meaningless, mindless, and self-focusedness over which people are willing to damage and ultimately lose their friendships. Once I witnessed two lifelong friends battle over a disagreement with each other. Each insisted the other was wrong demanding an apology and admission of guilt. Each stood their ground refusing to give into the other's demand. Walking away from one another, their silence and isolation continued for two years until one of the friends was diagnosed with a terminal fast-acting cancer. His life in this world was over in just six short months. The other man greatly regretted the time wasted over a rather petty dispute.
Life is way too short, only but a breath, to allow the petty little stuff that comes up and short circuits our relationships. One phone call can change your whole life announcing that a person someone you cared for is now gone. Value that friendship today because today, right now, is all any of us actually possess.
Deeper Pain Deeper Friendship Deeper Blessing
Having performed many funerals, I've observed on many occasions that the richer the friendship which existed between two people in life the deeper the pain seems at the lost of that friend. There appears to be a direct correlation between close friendships and pain at the loss of that friendship in death. Many times funerals have come and gone with nothing more than an obligatory almost emotionless response to the passing a person. That in itself tells me something. But, at other funerals the deep level of pain I've noticed by friends and family tells another kind of story.
More than once at an appropriate time long after a funeral, I've sat down and inquired about the person who had passed. "Please tell me about your friend," I often begin. Sometimes, their amazing stories of friendship left me tingly. I can't tell you the incredible rich stories of relationships I've been blessed to hear. Here's a thought to ponder:
Is it possible that perhaps our deep felt pain at the loss of a friend points to just how much we were blessed to enjoy such a relationship? And, is it possible that because of the loss of a close friend that the loss itself highlights forever in our lives just how special that person was to us during their earthly life with us?
Yes, the loss is tragic, the pain enduring, and the memories dripping with emotions, but the fact that I hurt so much and deeply tells me just how special that friend was and is and will always be to me - no matter what . . .
Just My Thoughts,