I have a few friends and family members (you know who you are, and so does everyone else) for whom control is a major issue. It never has been for me. In fact, I once went to an astrologer (I was about 29 at the time) who said, “You just now figured out that you CAN exert some control over your life — up till now you’ve just assumed your life was happening and your role was to go along for the ride.” Regardless of the accuracy of the rest of my natal chart, this particular comment really struck home.
Over the past week, especially during my time in New Mexico with my family, I struggled more than is typical with a desire to be in control — in one area in particular: food. When you are a guest in other people’s homes, it doesn’t feel right to dictate the food selection or to have a hissy fit if what is served isn’t quite what you wanted. My family was very sensitive to my efforts to lose weight and my concerns about weathering the holidays without too much damage on the scale, and they bent over backwards to meet my needs. But I still found myself confronted with options I wouldn’t have faced at home. Of course, there were temptations to my self-discipline, like my niece Hallie’s “birds nests”. But what I am really talking about here are the meal basics — entrees, sides, etc. — not the holiday goodies that were available in addition to the meals.
In the midst of my frustration over my lack of control, I thought about the organizations I’ve listed on this blog who send meals to shut-ins or who operate food pantries and/or soup kitchens — and about the many individuals and families who are dependent upon these services for their daily sustenance. And it occurred to me that one of the side-effects of being hungry (from poverty or disaster) is that you do not get to exert any control over the food you receive, are served, or must eat to survive. I thought it was difficult to go for a week eating what others chose to serve — and it helped me realize what a luxury the control most of us have on a daily basis truly is.
I was thinking this very thought as my parents and I were driving to meet my sister Gwen’s family. One of those Christmas music radio stations was on, and they were playing the Bob Geldof song written for African famine relief — at the end, they repeatedly sing the line “Feed the world”. I’ve been listening and singing along to this song for about 20 years now. But this line struck me anew — and I admit I got a little choked up singing it — feed the world. In comparison to this simple imperative, it seemed silly to worry about whether I could “afford” the calories in the roast beef being served for dinner.
It took me days to relax into the idea that I wasn’t in control of each meal’s menu; to refocus on the things that were important in the moment at hand. Once I was able to do that, the whole food thing was a lot less stressful. Now that I am back home and back in control of the food I’m eating, I can clearly see that I once again wasted energy focusing on the wrong things too much of the time (a lifelong bad habit). Here, I am in control of my food choices, but I am eating alone — I find I’d rather have my mom or my sister selecting the menu if it means I get to share the meal with them.
Like I said before, I have never really had a high need for control. It is more than time, though, to exercise control over my thinking and my tendency to be out of the moment. Sounds like a New Year’s resolution!