Many moons ago, one of my college roommates brought a case of canned food to our apartment to supplement our collective pantry. The kicker—the cans did not have labels. I don’t remember where she’d procured the food, but I do know we only had two ways to know what was in each can—open it or decipher its stamped, computer-generated code. She knew what the codes were, so as long as we asked her, we avoided pot-luck dinners.

I used to wish that the paths of life had clear labels like the rows and rows of products in the local supermarket. When I was starting out, the array of life choices was overwhelming. As a budding perfectionist, I imagined only one route through life was correct for me, and I could find it if only I could decipher the clues. So I set out on a quest to “do” life as perfectly as possible by cracking its “codes.”

Utilizing the experience of others whenever possible, I avoided unwanted waste and surprise when opening up life’s cans, but I found that life often gives us uncoded cans that no expertise or X-ray vision can penetrate. You simply have to open them up and figure out what to do if you wanted cherry pie filling and ended up with garbanzo beans.

Four decades into the journey, I can’t say I always enjoy opening an unknown life ingredient, but maybe I’m infinitesimally closer to accepting life’s little and big surprises. So instead of cherry pie, what would you say to a Deep Dish Garbanzo Bean Chocolate Chip Cookie?


(And just to prevent a heated discussion about life being au naturel—not frozen or canned—may I say all metaphors break down. I’d bet my can opener on it.)