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Breakfast … in an ordinary world | Moment's Notice


September 26, 2019

Breakfast, especially Sunday breakfast, is the highlight of my week.

My dad and I used to talk about how lucky we were because when we went to bed at night, we knew we would start the next day grateful to get up and eat breakfast.

While my dad’s favorite breakfast was a fried egg with a perfectly toasted piece of bread (he would toast it in the oven, first dry, and then put on the butter to cover but not compromise the crispy surface), most days for me, it was a bowl of cereal (Frosted Mini-Wheats, Rice Krispies, Cheerios),

It is such an ordinary thing …cereal… yet something that brings a moment of joy to the day. It is not just the eating of the cereal, but the routine, the comfort from familiarity, the time it takes to finish the bowl, one spoonful at a time.

If it also includes the perfect home-brewed cup of coffee, reading the newspaper, and catching up with a loved one, well, it qualifies as a ritual, a treasured ritual.

The memory of my father is never too far from my mind in the morning and is consistently reinforced by other breakfast lovers. My step-father-in-law, Bob, also appreciated the value of a good cereal. His processed-grain-porridge of choice was Wheat Chex, and every morning, he would have a bowl with honey and milk.

Bob passed away less than two weeks ago, and these days, well, it is hard not to be sad at breakfast time.

Rituals are not just important to us because we enjoy the food item itself, but because they come to represent more than we may consciously realize. Bob raised bees when he was a high school and college student to save money to pay for his studies (through medical school that led him to a storied career as an orthopedic surgeon), so honey had a distinct significance to him.

Wheat Chex offered a tasty and healthy vehicle for him to start his day with honey.

Similarly, my affinity for cereal began because my brother, who I adored, and I bonded over how and why we chose cereals, cereals that reinforced the identities we developed as children. My dad and I recognized that our favorite breakfasts connected us to our youth and simpler times, and so it only made sense to recognize that each day.

Researchers say that food rituals can have a profound effect on us. Rituals of ordinary habits evoke peace and safety. Rituals connect us to our past or our families. Our species evolved because we found ways to protect ourselves from the new challenges that arose by finding comfort in the familiar and the ordinary.

As we practice our food ritual, it allows us to let go of the “incessant distractibility, reductive utilitarianism, and cynicism” of the modern world. All of that from a bowl of cereal? Yup.

I think of Bob when I listen to a favorite song by Green Day, “Ordinary World”:

Where can I find the city of shining light

In an ordinary world?

How can I leave a buried treasure behind

In an ordinary world?

The days into years roll by

It's where that I live until I die

Ordinary world

Only in an ordinary world would a buried treasure be something special. Only in an ordinary world do we strive higher for a city of shining light. Only by appreciating the ordinary do we recognize the special, those tiny things that are so wonderful that we come to rely on them as a ritual.

Every time we visited my in-laws, the family would swirl around the kitchen, conjuring complicated breakfasts from whatever combination of eggs, vegetables, leftovers, and some spicy element. Amid it all, Bob would quietly open the high cabinet above the pantry, pull down the box of Wheat Chex, get a bowl from the cabinet nearby, the honey from the cabinet by the refrigerator, and pour the bowl just as he did each day for decades.

He would sit down with the same three newspapers, across from his lovely wife and whoever was visiting, and exist within that blissful morning moment.

We are forever grateful to Bob for showing us how to be exceptional within the ordinary world.


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