“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.”
— Eli Khamarov
I put the potatoes on the grill at 6pm. We ate them at 9pm.
An overcooked potato is a potato that cooks for too much time. But when someone needs help, potatoes are of little concern.
Our neighbor and friend had come back to her apartment yesterday, and was trying to finalize the last of her move. My wife, Melissa and another neighborhood friend had gone over earlier in the day to help sort and pack. It was thought to be a small job.
It was not.
By evening, Melissa wasn’t back yet, but I started the grill anyway. The steaks went in the fridge to marinate. The potatoes went on the grill. The phone call for help rang shortly thereafter.
The potatoes got pushed to the side of the grill.
There was a lot of stuff that still needed to be stored and packed. Boxes needed temporary storage in our garage along with bikes, golf clubs, and a foosball table. It all got moved. An apartment was emptied. A life was left.
By nine, everything was done, and our freshly cleaned garage was once again full of stuff. We joked about the myth of the clean garage. We hugged and said goodbye to our friend and her daughter. Then they left.
We went back in the house and I put the steaks on the grill. The potatoes finally came off.
Before we could sit down to eat, there was unexpected knock on the door. It was a different neighbor with whom we were talking earlier in the evening. He wanted to talk, so we invited him in for a steak, a beer, and an overcooked potato. The three of us talked and ate and laughed until almost midnight. We talked about kids, life, and being alone. We talked about our hope that everything will work out for our friends in their new life. It was an unexpected ending to an unexpected evening.
There’s an expectation involved with grilling. You put the food on with the implicit assumption that you’ll be there at the right time to take it off. There’s an expectation that you’ll taste the flavors of the food, infused with the sights and smells of a summer’s evening – the barbecue smoke, the sun, a gentle breeze, a glass of something good, a savory steak.
If those expectations collide with the unexpected – burnt meat, an unwelcome bee, a spilt beer, a sudden rainstorm – we’re often disappointed. Maybe we will think the night was ruined.
But the unexpected is our friend. It’s that dynamic which creates a memory. The meal that meets our expectations isn’t memorable. The unexpected event during the meal is memorable. The perfect baked potato isn’t memorable. It’s the overcooked potato that we will remember.
Last night was a night filled with unexpected things. It was an unexpected occasion to aid a friend in need and to enjoy a steak dinner with another. It was a chance to help and to listen. It was a night to give and to receive.
It was also an occasion to discover, unexpectedly, that an overcooked potato does not taste too bad.
Especially, if the potato is cooked with the gift of time.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Along with some neighborly assistance, my wife and I helped our friend in need, and offered a steak dinner to another.