I have an Easter story for you.
Easter was the usual gathering time for four generations of the family, from great grandmother Nana down to her great granddaughter – a newlywed. The young woman was hosting the dinner for the first time, with the help of her husband. He watched as his new wife took out a large roast, carefully sliced off both ends, and placed it into the roasting pan.
“So, why do you cut the ends off like that,” he asked, curiously.
She smiled. “That’s Mom’s recipe,” she said. “I think it keeps it moist, because her roasts are always good.” The young man was still. “I’m curious. Let’s ask your mom why,” he said, grabbing his wife’s hand and jumping up to find his mother-in-law.
The two of them walked into the dining room, where they found the bride’s mother setting the table. “Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the roast?” they asked. The mother thought for a moment. “I don’t know. That’s how your grandmother always did it. So I did the same.”
The young woman then turned to her grandmother, who was helping her mom set the table. “Grandma? What’s the secret to cutting off the ends of the roast?” The grandmother stopped folding the napkins, then said, “Well, that’s the way your great grandmother did it, so that’s just the way it’s always been done.”
The four of them looked at one another, then together turned toward the living room where great grandmother, the matriarch of the family, was sitting in the rocking chair. “Nana,” asked the young woman, “I’m fixing the roast just the way you taught grandmother and she taught mom and mom taught me, but we’re wondering why we slice the ends off?”
Nana looked at the group, raised one eyebrow, and said, “because the darned roasting pan was too small!”
Now that’s a pretty funny (and fairly widespread) story. You’ll find all kinds of variations wherever you look. But I was reminded of it while driving to work the other day. I turned (as usual) onto the same street I always use, and I zigged and I zagged (as usual) on cross streets to avoid stop signs and traffic lights.
That morning I realized I am perpetuating something I learned from my sister, with whom I carpooled for several years. Susie had meticulously driven (so she claimed) multiple routes to and from work to figure out which was quicker with fewer stops, fewer lights, and lighter traffic. The route I continue to drive, although she has since retired and cruelly left me to fend for myself each morning (especially when it snows), is the same route we took day in and day out.
Unlike the roast story, I can find solid research (or so Susie assures me) that backs up the use of that route to work. But it’s not my research. I have accepted her assurances, and that’s always a bit risky with elder siblings. It’s easy to see how such a thing can so easily become just another “that’s the way we always …” moment. It certainly has for me.
And that brings up a point that I think is particularly valid – are our actions based on something we know and understand for ourselves or on something we’ve just accepted from another?
In the Jewish tradition, the parable of the roast and pan is used as a teaching moment about how important it is to understand the “why” of religious rituals. Just performing by rote doesn’t cut it. The legend teaches that any tradition must include an appreciation for the reasons behind it as well as the faithful ritual itself. I think that’s true in most religions – understanding the ‘why” begets deeper faith in the end, I suppose.
Thus, the tale of the roast shows us that if we don’t really understand why we do something, the doing of it can lack validity or be based on the wrong reasons.
Wow. I can think of so many applications in life. How many of us grew up thinking a certain way – because our parents thought that way? How many of us adopted a fashion craze because the advertisers and our friends thought it was the bomb? How many of us vote the same way and follow all the dictates of one political party because it’s the party line, or because we grew up in a household that believed that way?
How about our line? How about our style? How about our thoughts?
Think about it. If you’re walking down a path and doing the same old things because that’s just what you’ve always done, maybe it’s time to check in with yourself and figure out what you really value. Do a little deep research. Discover what your North Star actually is.
Don’t be like me – driving the same route to work just because your sister said it was the best route. Determine that for yourself. In fact, I’m going to drive a different route just to see if it’s better. And you know what? For me, better just might mean a route that’s more scenic, or more interesting, or more fun. It may be that what I want isn’t the quickest route, but the unique route. Mine.