Change is like stone soup

“A rich man's soup - and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!”
― Marcia Brown, Stone Soup


I was sitting on the back porch the other day, contemplating life and the road that has led me to this point, and I thought “change is like stone soup.”

Do you remember the book Stone Soup from your childhood?  In the story, travelers arrive in a village with a large cooking pot, but nothing to cook.  They ask the villagers for contributions but are told the villagers have nothing to eat themselves, and certainly nothing they can share. 

Undeterred, the travelers fill the pot with water, add a large stone, and set it over a fire.  One by one curious villagers inquire about the bubbling pot and are told it is “stone soup.”  It will be quite delicious, but it could use a few ingredients, and the travelers will be happy to share when it is ready to eat.  So the villagers contribute vegetables, seasoning, a bit of meat and barley.  The stone is removed, and soon the villagers and the travelers are feasting on stone soup.

Let’s set aside for a minute the question of whether the travelers ran a con game on the villagers, and let’s also set aside the moral that when everyone contributes a bit, everyone benefits a great deal.  For now, let’s concentrate on the cooking pot and the stone.

Sometimes, change takes us from amazing highs to incredible lows.  At the top, we feel in control, on top of our game, and eagerly anticipate the next success.  But something interrupts our plan.  It could result from our own choices, or it could be outside forces, or it could be a combination.  It doesn’t matter.  You feel like you are left with nothing – maybe just a cooking pot and a few rocks.

What to do? 

Stone soup. 

Start with what you have.  Yes, you have rocks, but when you start really examining things, you realize you have a bit more to add to the mix.  You also have determination, and grit and the ability to get up again.  And you have people who will help you on the way.  It may be your tribe that lifts you up, or it may be strangers who seem to appear from nowhere and offer a kind word, an inspiration, a new perspective. When we can see beyond the fear and anger, we can start to see more than rocks and stones.

Yes, it’s true that in the story the villagers come forward with the ingredients.  But they only do that because those clever travelers see beyond the story the villagers are telling.  Like those travelers, when we start to look at what we have, we can see beyond the story we have been told, or that we have told ourselves about why we are what we are.  When the story begins to change we change, too. 

Over the past few months, it felt at times as if we were all eating stone soup – cold stone soup at that.  Yes, this has been a time of extremes, and we are probably not done.  We’ve lost friends and loved ones and learned things about ourselves and our friends and family that shocked us, We have tried to understand how this could happen here – how could thousands of our friends and neighbors lack the food to feed themselves and their children in this country of plenty where we throw out billions of pounds of food each year? We’ve seen our businesses and co-workers struggle to survive.  Our children missed out on graduations and all manner of activities. We’ve seen our older generation isolated and realized that so many of them suffer miserable treatment in their final years after lifetimes of service and contribution.  Doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, store clerks, drivers, and first responders answered the call to serve in situations they could never have imagined. Teachers were innovative and creative, keeping students engaged and focused.  We watched the news and wondered how we got so far apart, and how wearing a mask to keep others safe became a sign of government oppression.  We miss traveling and celebrating. 

So this is where we have to make a choice.  What will we do with all this change?  Going backward, to a time before COVID 19, is not possible.  Our lives have been forever altered by these past few months.  We’ve arrived in a new place. And, as always when we arrive in a new place, we have a chance to re-imagine our future.  It’s true you can choose not to take that chance.  But that, I can assure you, will result in a truly unsatisfactory bowl of soup.  Longing for the past is rarely the path to fulfillment.   It may be hard right now, but the question is not “why can’t it be the way it was.”  The question is “What can we make with what we have?”  More than we think. 

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