When I was a kid, I used to care so much about my cereal being crumb-free. You know, the dust sitting at the bottom of every bag. Whenever I poured cereal into my bowl, I would make sure to not get any of those crumbs, and when the box was at its end, I’d pick the last proper cereal bits out by hand.
This morning, I also finished a bag of cereal. I emptied what was left into the bowl in one fell swoop, crumbs and all. As the last bit of cereal dust settled, I realized that I no longer cared about cereal crumbs. What happened?
Well, besides the fact that about 20 years have passed, nowadays, when I make cereal, I’m either hungry, tired, or thinking about a million things. I’ve got more important things to do, and, on the one hand, that’s a good thing. Of course, caring about cereal crumbs is silly in the grand scheme of things. My energy is better spent doing meaningful work, taking care of myself, or being a good friend, boyfriend, or brother.
On the other hand, I can’t help but miss what caring about cereal crumbs ultimately stood for: It was a simpler time. There were fewer obligations, less running around, and, perhaps most importantly, a universe of expectations that hadn’t yet been placed on my shoulders. I went to school, did my homework, was fed and dressed each day, and the rest was up for grabs. I had few things of importance — or at least of consequence — to think about, and so I had the time and wherewithal to care about things like, well, cereal crumbs.
To some extent, this is all part of growing up. You lose freedoms but gain meaning. Then again, a great chef will never place a plate in front of you that’s littered with crumbs around the edges. When we lose our ability to pay attention to the details, even minutiae, we also lose some of our capacity for excellence.
What this ability requires is space, both in time and of the mind. You can’t get lost in the little things without an extended stretch of relaxation, and you won’t find that peace of mind, even on a vacation, if you can’t clear your thoughts.
As an adult, you’ll always have something important to do. Raising kids is a 20-year, really a lifelong job. There’s always another promotion to get, another big step to take in your career. And your finances, family, and friends, will all deliver new challenges to your doorstep on a regular basis. Therefore, you must find a way to turn off, to wander, to blank out life’s constant demands and really get into something as silly as cereal crumbs.
Clearly, filling our breakfast bowls was not our highest calling in life, but on some days, remembering how exciting something so inconsequential used to feel just may bring us one step closer to it.