More than the Sum of Our Parts

aroma aromatic assortment bottles
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Winter has reared its head again and cast a web of shimmering ice and snow over a large swath of the States.  Days like today are referred to as soup days in my household.  When it’s too dreary and cold to venture beyond the front door, I pull out either the slow cooker or dutch oven in the morning , fill it with ingredients for soup, and let it simmer all day.

On the menu today is a slow-cooked bean soup.  There are a mind-boggling number of recipes that fall under that description. Mine is a ham and white bean blend, liberally seasoned with rosemary and thyme and with enough carrots added to keep a warren of rabbits happy for weeks.  It’s my own recipe, my grandmother’s being too heavy on salt and pork fat and my mother’s consisting of ‘open can, add water, and heat.’  Our interpretations of bean soup vary widely and, even if given the same ingredients, we would each create something unique.

We arrive at different results because cooking is more than the sum of its parts.  The very best cooks bring together the ingredients in the most harmonious and richest balance possible.  Scratch cooking without a recipe requires at least a passing knowledge of how those ingredients might clash or combine.  Experience and discernment make us better at judging when we need a pinch or a cup of something.  We can choose how deeply we delve into the ingredients we use – perhaps we will never look further into seasonings than salt, pepper, and garlic or we may have a thriving herb garden and be fully aware of the wonderful, subtle differences between fresh and dried herbs.  At whatever level we find ourselves, cooking is a merging of influences – our culture, our backgrounds, our knowledge, our experience, our willingness (or not) to explore the unknown.

What is true of cooking is also true of ourselves as human beings.  We are the sum of so many parts that we can never enumerate them all and yet we are so much more than that sum.  Who we truly are is, in part, the result of how we integrate all of these influences. What things do we embrace and add in full measure?  What parts of ourselves are best limited to small portions and what influences should be left out entirely?

Finding the right balance of influences can be a struggle, particularly when our foundations are shaken by some unexpected event or when we’ve accepted an inaccurate label for ourselves. We sometimes allow those labels or unexpected events to needlessly influence our behavior and create limitations that only exist in our own minds.

I am my own bad example of how this can happen.  As a child, I was labelled as uncoordinated, clumsy, and fat. Those negative implications of those labels took hold. By the time I was a teenager, I’d stopped playing sports and would only rarely participate in physically  demanding activities. When I did attempt to play sports, dance, or run, I felt incredibly self-conscious and that I was being fraud, since everyone knows that I am not athletic.  As the years went by, those labels became a self-fulfilling prophecy and I became more clumsy and less physically capable precisely because I wasn’t making an attempt to be anything else.

Sometimes,  we need to remind ourselves that we are more than the sum of our parts.  Am I still fat, uncoordinated, and clumsy as an adult?  Well, I did slip in the mud while trail running last week, stumbled rather impressively down the hillside, tripped over a tree root, and ended up landing on my amply-padded behind in blackberry bramble.  So, yes, the labels still apply, but notice those two words cleverly inserted into that sentence – trail running. I am now a fat, clumsy, uncoordinated person who regularly challenges herself physically.  When the clumsiness and lack of coordination clash with my attempts to run and hike, the result is usually a few bruises (though no longer to my ego) and a funny story to tell later.

So, while the soup and the day continue to simmer away, I challenge you to think about how your own life is, as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.  What influences most strongly flavor your life?  What unique combination of things comes together to make you who you are and what recipe are you following to make the resulting combination the best that it possibly can be?

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