Friday, November 18, 2011

Lesson Learned From a Chili-Cheese Dog

I’m a Southern boy, born and raised in Jacksonville, FL I grew up filling my body with Southern food.  Southern food is synonymous with bad, unhealthy, or heavy.  My roots aren’t those of riches so I grew up poverty stricken I adopted a lot of poor eating habits that over the past several years I’ve watched decease.  All that adds up to lots of fast food and things like chili-cheese dogs.  I always joke with my wife and tell her she saved me from eating Taco Bell four nights a week.  Before I met my wife I did in fact eat at Taco Bell with a buddy of mine at least four times a week.  We had dinner with him and his wife recently and both discussed how Taco Bell isn’t something we can touch now, as it would upset us.  Even though I can’t touch Taco Bell now it is fun to reminisce of those times we had skating the streets of downtown Indy filling our bellies with all sorts of trans fats and other life-shortening ingredients. 

Last night my wife was out for drinks with one of her friends so I was left to my own at the house for quite a while.  Assuming she would eat out I decided to reminisce a bit and get back to my roots. A couple chili-cheese dogs, some macaroni and cheese, and french-fries would do the trick.  Like clockwork as a bachelor I can vividly remember making this exact meal and pouring the left over chili in a small bowl to finish off.  This was a staple meal for me.  This meal was nostalgic.  Michigan is nostalgic for me and my wife.  Nostalgia from my past and present collided last summer which all came crashing down on me last night as I could barely finish my first hotdog and looked at my full plates (yup, it took two plates because there was so much) with disgust. 

Michigan is a special place for my wife and I, we especially love coastal towns that run along Lake Michigan.  My wife’s family spends a great deal of time in Michigan with us, it is a special place for our family.  In a quaint cottage nestled close to the lake we enjoyed each other’s’ company one summer afternoon.  While up there together we do breakfast big and we do dinner big, but lunch, not so much.  But lunch is something I enjoy, it’s important to me.  I decided to make myself a couple chili-cheese dogs that day.  I had to run up to the local convenience store (I endearingly call it the Ugly Duck) and get a can of no-beans Hormel chili.  That’s what I grew up doing so I couldn’t digress at all.  I remember her family poking fun at me and how disgusting that Hormel chili was, how it was like dog food.  I enjoyed my lunch that day; at least I told myself I did. 

Last night the nostalgia of those chili-cheese dog meals of my childhood and bachelor days suddenly lost its glimmer and crashed into reality, leaving me as its victim.  As I threw away everything I had prepared and set on my plate in anticipation of eating I realized that my chili-cheese dog has just taught me a great life lesson.  No, I didn’t hear an audible voice coming from food, that’s just plain bonkers!  I discovered an underlying principle I think most my age or close to my age are currently confronting.  Nostalgia and reality do not always coexist.  Sometimes you believe and hold on to things because you cannot bear the thought of moving on, processing change isn’t desirable in those moments.  When nostalgia and reality contrast reality always wins.  Reality and nostalgia don’t have to battle for your heart, however, and that is the challenge of what growing up and becoming adults is all about.

I’m 28, married, and live in a different region (physically, socio-economically, spiritually, and mentally) from where I grew up.  I’m done with schooling and am in a stable career at a stable company.  It’s tough being this age because you remember high-school like it was yesterday and although you realize you graduated 10 years ago you still feel like a kid.  The reality of you being a grown-up only hits you every once in a while and the more I grow up the more I realize all the grown-ups I remember really weren’t grown-ups at all, just people like me, going through what I’m going through, right now.  There is this tension between the nostalgia of youth and your present that vies for your attention.  Naturally when the nostalgia of your youth is called into question you defend it, sometimes protect it despite reality.  This is the battle of our age, growing up and being stuck between nostalgia and reality.  However, where these two collide we can find peace where so much anxiety and remorse reside.  There are two choices when we come to a point where our denial can no longer sustain our reality, nostalgia contrasts with reality.  This is what happened when I could no longer bear eating the chili-cheese dog that used to shine so brightly. 

This place in life doesn’t have to be as volatile as it can so often be.  We don’t have to be in constant tension or all together denial about growing up.  When you have a moment where your nostalgic loses its appeal when faced with reality you realize you are growing up.  Rather than allowing sadness to wrench at your heart as you throw your beloved chili-cheese dog in the trash, I suggest acceptance and appropriate thankfulness.  I am grateful my stomach cannot handle that kind of mess anymore because I am healthier and happier.  I would never want to be a bachelor again and simply look back on those good times as moments of growth that prepared me to be exactly where I am now.  When once chooses acceptance and gratefulness in the face of this tension where nostalgia and reality collide, we grow and appreciate life, and in that moment grow up just a bit more.  I know others are currently experiencing this crisis of growing up and hope this may help some.  Enjoy the journey as we change, being thankful along the way.

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