Friday, November 27, 2009


Today, millions of Americans will open up their refrigerators and come face to face with leftovers from yesterday's Thanksgiving dinner. Some of those people will dive into the leftovers with enthusiasm, some will reluctantly pull them out with a sense of resigned obligation, and some will ignore them and eventually just throw them away. Some people love leftovers and intentionally make or order big meals so that they can spare themselves the effort of cooking over the next couple of days or so they can enjoy their favorite dishes more than once. Other people hate leftovers and will never eat them.

The idea of leftovers got me thinking about some of our larger cultural values. There is an undercurrent of traditional frugality and practicality in our society that tells us we should get every ounce of enjoyment possible out of the things we buy and that we should avoid waste at all cost. Yet, there's also a competing message coming from advertisers telling us that old things are no good and that we constantly need something new. One voice says, "Eat every last scrap of that turkey and be glad you don't have to cook today!" and the other says, "You had that meal yesterday. Today you need something different, something fresh." These voices are weighing in on more than our decisions about food. We hear them every time we think about the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, or even the jobs we have. The idea of getting the total possible value out of what we already have competes with the excitement of having something new and different.

Questions about whether to choose old or new even come into play in our interpersonal relationships and our religious practices. Does it feel like we're having the same experiences and connections over and over again? If so, is that a happy and comfortable feeling, or are we bored? When I ask myself these questions, I realize that I tend to want a balance of old and new in my life. I really like having leftovers sometimes, but I don't necessarily want to eat the same meal for a week. Likewise, I love having familiar routines and steady relationships in my life, but I also like to spice things up now and then. I want to try to get the best of both worlds—to enjoy the things I already have as much as I can while regularly adding new things into the mix. I don't need to experience something new and different every day, but I also want my life to be more than a constant series of leftovers. I want to be practical yet adventuresome, to have variety while still being economical.

When it comes down to it, I guess I'm not universally for or against leftovers. I don't need to always stick with something until I can get nothing else out of it, and I don't have a constant desire to get new things. I like to balance my life out by having leftovers sometimes. As for today, though, I think I'll be pro-leftovers. It is the day after Thanksgiving, after all, and the leftovers are pretty good!

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