Monday, January 3, 2011

Comfort Zones

It is so easy to take things for granted, I find, when I move through the world. Without even realizing it, I establish comfort zones all around me, places where it is easy to be who I am.

A simple example. I have been a vegetarian for the last 20 years. My immediate family, and my closest circles of friends, all know this about me. So whenever I am in a social setting with them, they go out of their way to be accommodating. Even the book group that I have been a member of for the past eight years prepares vegetarian options for each dinner when we meet.

On Christmas, Sabrina and I were invited to have dinner with a dear aunt and uncle who had never before hosted us for that meal. My grandmother, another aunt and uncle, three cousins, two of their wives - all told, there were 13 of us, every one of who I had been with on many an occasion, but never exclusively, on their turf.

We sat down at the beautifully decorated table, and the food was brought out - and I realized suddenly that almost every dish had meat in it. The first course was soup and Caesar salad. Couldn't do the salad - anchovies. Thank goodness, Sabrina and I had made the potato leek soup. But then, it was ham, pasta with shrimp, a bean casserole with bacon, deviled eggs . . .

The worst part is feeling that I will embarrass my hostess by having an empty plate. Luckily, there was a fruit salad, and mashed potatoes. I put the fruit salad in a bowl, and centered that on my plate to take up space, then ladled up a big dollop of potatoes. Then I picked up a dinner roll and some black olives, and ate as slowly as possible.

What I realized, at the end of the meal, was how much I have come to take for granted the fact that so many people in my life make my vegetarianism a non-issue. I wanted to go right home and write thank you notes to everybody.

Similarly, I move within the comfort zones of established social networks, a job that I have held for eight years, a marriage that is secure and nourishing, a sangha I can call my home. Who knows what else I've grown blind to?

Staying in familiar places has not always been my modus operandi. During my first 35 years of life, I averaged almost one address change a year. Before this job, I had never worked anywhere longer than two years. My longest relationship was five years, but the average was closer to 18 months. Permanency wasn't even part of my vocabulary.

Back then, you may have been able to chide me for not having staying power, but you certainly couldn't have said I was afraid of new things. So it is interesting, now, to be in this place in my life where I find that perhaps I have settled in so comfortably that it is time to readjust.

Maybe it is time to step out of the comfort zone a little more regularly.

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