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Always Make a Spicy One

This is a guest post written by Matt Gibson. As an artist, The Smile Project ambassador, and future educator, Matt believes experience and perspective are our biggest superpowers, and that we should live and learn as much as we can in order to create a better future.

Oftentimes, when my mom tries a new recipe, she makes two variants of the dish: a regular one and a spicy one. I’m not exactly sure why she does it, but she has always done that for as long as I can remember.

So, a few months ago, both of my parents tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined for a week (they’re both fine now, thank you for asking). One evening, my mom sent me a recipe for cabbage because she knew that we had a lot of it in the fridge. Now, I figured I could put it all in one crockpot and it would shrink down to a reasonable size, but very quickly I was faced with two crockpots, full of both cabbage and crisis.

What in the world am I gonna do with TWO crockpots of cabbage??? I like cabbage, yes, but the thought of eating that much of it seemed to test that. After a moment of deliberation, something inside me whispered, “make a spicy one,” and without hesitation, I dashed to the cabinet, then back to one of the crockpots, adding a dash or two of something with a picture of a pepper on it. A couple more adjustments and several hours later, it was done, and in my opinion, both kinds were delicious.

When I prepared plates for my parents, I gave them mostly the plain cabbage, with maybe a third as much spicy. I figured they might not like the spicy cabbage—maybe it was too spicy, maybe I only liked it so much because I made it myself, maybe I ruined something else in the process of spicing it up. At least the other one followed the recipe strictly, so it couldn’t be my fault if they didn’t like it.

My parents called me later to tell me how good the cabbage was and my mom, who had lost her taste by then, made special mention of the extra spice, grateful she was able to taste something for the first time in days. The gratification I felt in this moment was unmatched, but not quite enough; I decided to search the situation for an abstraction, some lesson that I could apply beyond this experience.

How often are we faced with the feeling that someone might not like a part of us? How often do we dilute aspects of ourselves because maybe we’re too “spicy,” too “different,” or feel that we’ve “ruined something” in the process of becoming who we really are? How many times have we served versions of ourselves that are bland, knowing that our real selves are a lot more spicy than we let on?

Sure, our spiciest selves can be too much for people sometimes, but isn’t that why we share it in small doses and save it for when our mildness is overwhelming? Isn’t it better to at least have a sense of our personality—what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, our hopes, our fears, etc.? Don’t we at least owe it to ourselves? Though we may rarely be given the chance, shouldn’t we at least be prepared to share the more seasoned sides of ourselves with those around us who’ve become desensitized to blandness?

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