food warmer with no flame

A food warmer with no flame, a chipped plate sitting atop the other dishes at the breakfast buffet. I think back to something my dad tried to instill in us boys. Words that made no sense at the time, in one ear and out the other. Words that came rushing into my memory as the cold, food warmer and chipped plate revealed their higher purpose in my life.

“Don’t start anything you can’t keep up.”

No doubt when this hotel first opened someone took care of the free breakfast buffet. They would religiously bring out the warmers, fill them with the assorted food items, and light the burners underneath. The dishes from the morning’s diners would be scrubbed, dried, and placed back in their stacks among the other dishes to await the next morning’s diners. Not a chipped plate among this lot, nary a one.

Time passed and the newness wore off. Who knows what really happened? Maybe one day they ran out of the fuel for the warmers or someone forgot to light the burners. No one said anything, no customers complained about cold food. Perhaps while scrubbing dishes someone banged one on the edge of the sink and chipped its edge.

No one took notice, or did they? Who knows? Who cares? People are still flocking to the free breakfast buffet every morning and eating their now, cold-offering of food and eating the same on chipped and cracked plates.

But what does this mean in the grander scheme of life? Why did these items force my dad’s words into my consciousness?

I think, in life, sometimes when things are new we make sure to follow the routine, put our best foot forward. We work hard to maintain our relationships, our jobs, our hobbies. Then something happens. The fuel runs out and we show up one day with less than our personal best to offer. The things in our lives become routine and cold, the flame is out.

chipped plate

The plates have become chipped and worn. Instead of giving our relationships, or work a fresh, inviting view of our selves daily we offer them our cold lives on chipped plates. Cold food on chipped plates, what could possibly be worse than this?

But a few folks hang on. Maybe it’s their hope that things will one day return to normal. Maybe they can look beyond the imperfections and it doesn’t really matter to them. But others leave. Some quietly leave our lives. No reason, no warning, just decide not to sign up for another free breakfast buffet.

Others get in our face and say, “You’ve changed.”

We argue with them and ourselves. “Nothing has changed. I am the same, maybe it’s you that has changed.” But we know, deep down we know. We know about the cold food and the chipped plates.

So what is it for you? Can you do a self-examination and find the places where you have put out the fire and reignite the flame with your friends or your life’s calling? Can you find the broken dishes in your life and get rid of them and offer the people you love and your work the best you have to give? Is it still possible to mend fences, rebuild burnt bridges, and bring people back to your own “free breakfast buffet?”

“Don’t start anything you can’t keep up.” Words that went in one ear and out the other? Or maybe, just maybe they stuck.


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