Interrupted: Embracing Opportunities for Growth and Understanding

Written by: Madeline Pannell

For years, I dreamed of visiting the UK — Ancient castles! Posh accents! Rolling hills! What could be better? 

Finally, last summer, my dream became a reality. I traveled with my church’s youth group to Edinburgh, Scotland, to volunteer at a summer camp for Scottish kids. I loved soaking in every detail of Scottish life and culture. I learned some Scottish slang, tried some new foods, and even saw the Scottish crown jewels! 

A memory I continue to revisit, though, is a little unexpected. On my first night in Scotland, our Scottish hosts fixed a delicious dinner. After a long day of traveling, eating a home-cooked meal absolutely hit the spot. Trying my best to be a grateful guest, I quickly gathered my dishes after the meal was over and prepared to toss the remnants of my meal in the trash.

Suddenly, my host stopped me — “Wait!”

I froze. Had I done something wrong? 

My host hastened to assure me that I hadn’t offended her. “We actually compost those food scraps,” she explained with a smile. 

I learned over the following week that many other Scots do, too. To them, it was a normal part of daily life, but to us Americans, it was a profoundly different way of thinking about a meal. I became much more aware of what I was eating and what was going into the garbage. I started to consider whether my food was compostable or not, whether it was organic waste or cooked food waste. I’ve returned to my daily life with fresh eyes on my habits around food.

Three months later, I’m still thinking about
that experience.

My habit of throwing all waste in the trash was interrupted by a new norm: composting. As a result, I began to approach an unconscious routine with new awareness.

I tend to approach so much of my life with this same unconscious attitude. I move along out of the half-asleep habit rather than choosing steps forward with intention and thoughtful reflection. Being interrupted by an unusual practice forced me to wake up and take a look around at my life, my choices, and my assumptions. 

Interruptions in our daily lives can be frustrations, but they can also offer us something precious: the chance to see life and those we love in a new, hopeful way. I challenge you to consider this as you walk into this holiday season. Like composting, holidays interrupt our typical routines in ways that can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. As we pause our work to focus on family, rest, and gratitude, it’s tempting to let these days slip into just another to-do list.

I start to feel grumpy about family members who annoy me or help out with another unnecessarily complicated meal. I start to mentally tally up what I have to get done once I’m back at work. I text my friends memes about DC life rather than engage with the family that’s gathered right in front of me.

This holiday season, try something new with me.

When you or I are interrupted, let’s consider:

  • Why have I always done this the same way?
  • Where have I made assumptions about my family, friends, and neighbors?
  • Where do I reinforce my own beliefs by failing to listen to others?
  • Why do I write off people and habits I don’t like?

Maybe these reflections won’t ultimately change the way my life looks on the surface. (I still haven’t figured out how to compost when you have cats that like to get into the trash.) But at least I’ll be ready to treat interruptions with patience rather than annoyance and listen rather than judge. A season for hope, indeed!

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