Monday, December 30, 2013

The Gravy Doesn't Just Come When You Cook The Meat

In Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, Oscar angers Felix by coming home very late for a double-date dinner that Felix is cooking. By the time Oscar ambles home, beer on his breath, the roast is dried-out. Felix, already angry, asks what he is supposed to do -- the dinner is ruined. Oscar makes the mistake of suggesting that they just pour gravy over it.

FELIX: Where the hell am I going to get gravy at eight o'clock? 
OSCAR: I thought it comes when you cook the meat. 
FELIX: When you cook the meat? You don't know the first thing you're talking about. You have to make gravy. It doesn't just come!

This popped into my head today as I was thinking about the sort of laissez-faire attitude people seem to have toward their own lives. They expect the gravy just to magically make itself, when it comes to life, in general -- especially in terms of marriage and kids.

Here's when I could start spitting out extended and mixed metaphors relating life to a garden or sticking to the idea of cooking. I'll try to keep that to a minimum -- but the truth is, you have to cultivate things; you have to tend the stove. 

If you plant a garden, you pick a nice, sunlit spot. You make sure the soil is good. You tend the plants by watering and feeding them and when something starts to rot, you pick it off before it spreads and infects the rest of the garden. 

There -- I'll stop. But you see it, right? Sure, it is a corny metaphor for life, but damned if people don't seem to completely ignore that wisdom -- or to blow it off because it gets in the way of having fun. 

They have kids (because they think that is what they are supposed to do) and they just expect respect and good behavior from them and they are offended when they don't get it. They get married and they expect love to conquer all, even if they are completely unaware of what love is -- they just assume that it is there because they seem to like to have sex a lot. 

Okay -- I won't stop: they start with questionable soil, to begin with, then they leave the garden on its own and complain when everything dies. 

I watch marriages collapse all around me and I watch kids turn out bad and the closest people seem to get to an acknowledgement of the need for cultivation is that they say things like: "marriage is hard" and "raising kids is a full time job." 

But what do they do? Do they plan ahead? Do they get ready for the time when the physical passion in a marriage wanes? Do they think, years ahead, of how they are going to handle it, as parents, when they turn from instant heroes into opponents to be outwitted; or, better still, do they take steps to see that this doesn't ever happen? Because, let me tell you, "that's just the way it is" is a bunch of bull. We're all too eager to surrender to cliches. 

In our culture, we are great at admitting weakness and defeat, but we are not so good at raging against the fading of the light. For the sake of our kids and our marriages, we need to cultivate. We need to plan ahead. We need to read the wise words of others. We need to stand at the stove and make the gravy, because it doesn't just come when you cook the meat. And sometimes, it is just too late to run out and buy some. 

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