When it comes to missed opportunities, they are almost always on my mind. Truthfully, it is a single missed opportunity. I run over it in my mind constantly, if not obsessively, but never once have I uttered any of it aloud.
Like thumbing over the edges, instead of cracking open a book to settle in and read, I feel the weight of it, but I haven’t ever allowed the story to really unfold. Part of the problem is that I can’t spell it. The other part of the problem is I can’t fix it. The short version is missed opportunities aren’t about money.
I don’t know the name of my most favorite meal. I can say it, but I can’t spell it no matter how hard I try. Years of Google searches have yielded exactly zero results. It is an Italian-English mishmash of a word recognized only by my mother’s family. The same family that offers sad smiles or clicks of their teeth when I ask about it, convinced that I am mistaken, confused, or simply undeserving of our culinary family lineage that is steeped in meals that took days to prepare and just as long to eat.
I understand their concerns. I know the truth. My favorite meal was borne from excess ingredients that a grandmother who knew what it was like to go without could not bear to waste. While family members’ mouths water at the thought of actual meals that required breaded vegetables or meats, mine misses the afterthought.
I know it is a simple dish. Leftover breadcrumbs combined with a bit of egg and water mixed with grated cheese and parsley flakes. The ratios, though, elude me. Dashes and pinches that I’m certain depended more what was cooked beforehand than was what scrapped together and tossed on the frying pan, still hot and greasy from the earlier entree.
I remember exactly the date of the last time I could have eaten this meal. Four years ago, my nana smiled as she worked her eyes to my stomach and clucked her tongue. “Too skinny. You should eat something.” They were her two favorite sentences. I heard them more than I heard her say how much she loved me because her love was tangled up in those words. Everyone, no matter how big, was too skinny and should eat something. It was an invitation not merely to eat but to sit down, relax, and be fussed over in a way that only grandparents can. After listening to her rattle off a list of options in my parents’ pantry and refrigerator, I politely declined and gave her kiss. I had to go. “Wait. I’ll cook.” She offered to make my favorite meal. Not because she was already cooking and hated to waste, but because she had been serving me plate after plate of this dish at my request for decades. Fresh, just for me. Dashes and pinches that were never supposed to come together except as means to avoid waste. She would make it just for me.
I turned it down. I turned her down. I walked out the door at the request of a family to meet with their son to work on a term paper, since the semester was coming to an end. I said goodbye to continue my streak of side hustling. I drove away out of fear of missed opportunities. Who has time for food when there is money to be made?
I saw my nana the day after that. Of course I did. She wasn’t bedridden or sick, a fragment of her former self. This isn’t one of those stories. She commended me for being so willing to help the kiddies and for always being so ambitious. She clasped my hand with that same familiar strength and smiled that same familiar smile. I was her little go-getter, and she was oh, so proud of me that day like all the days before it.
This isn’t one of those stories. It’s worse.
I never had that meal again because my nana died two days after offering to make it. Two days after inviting me to sit at the table while she mixed together dashed and pinches, telling me stories both familiar and new. Two days after I was still under the impression that missed opportunities were about money.
They’re not. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. In a world so dead set on money, the real missed opportunities are all about time.
But remember how I said it wasn’t one of those stories, it was worse? It is also better.
I might have missed that last meal, but I made time for nearly three decades worth of meals with her. While I may never let myself relive that particular missed opportunity in its entirety again, I will continue to hold the memory close. It is that very memory that reminds me to put family and friends ahead of work and money, to spend time squeeze little fingers instead of scrolling on screens. It is that moment that reminds me to value enough over more, to savor the present as much as I dream of the future.
So Tell Me…What’s the best opportunity that you’ve seized lately?