When I was a junior in college, I lived with six friends in a shabby but comfortable house just a block off campus. While the ceiling of my basement bedroom did nothing to dampen the sound of my music-major roommates’ practicing in the room above, I do miss the place. For a few months, at least, it was home.
One surprisingly quiet evening toward the end of the spring semester, I took a break from studying and came upstairs to get something to eat. There in the kitchen was one of my roommates, a friend since my first week at the university, pacing the kitchen in a sweat, his face flushed, his phone to his ear. He kept repeating phrases like, “Where is he?” and “What happened?”
“Is he ok?”
“Is he alive?”
I stood to one side of the room, leaning against the cabinets. He didn’t seem to notice I was there until he hung up the phone, until he turned to me pale and looked not at but through me. “What’s going on?” I said.
“My brother,” he replied. “He tried to—”
We hurried to my car and began a three-hour drive south, which I (though shaken) was in a better state to make than he. As I drove past streetlights reflected on wet pavement, my friend called hospitals and begged for information. He had no idea where his brother was or what condition he was in.
Finally, half-way there, we received a call. He was alive.
When I think of interruptions, I often think of things that get in the way, that distract from what I “should” or “want to” be doing. But that night, I felt no hesitation at placing time between my plans and, well, my plans. Something jolted me out of myself, and my focus moved to that which was truly important. As it happens, it was the last meaningful time I spent with my friend.
Interruptions echo our own brokenness while providing opportunities for reflection, reconceptualization, and change. They are breaks in the seeming (or desired) continuity of our own plans, not-always-subtle reminders that the true continuity of life—of life everlasting—stems from His plan and His alone. I consider this when I sit working on schoolwork or planning lessons, when my children crawl into my lap and want to point out letters on my keyboard. These moments are “breaks between” my plans and my plans, and what interrupts is often, I’ve found, most important, most meaningful.
At every opportunity that arises, I share Death Cab for Cutie’s song “Title and Registration.” In it, Benjamin Gibbard sings about a sorrowful interruption to his own plans: As he “was searching for some legal document” in the glove compartment of his car, Gibbard recalls, he “stumbled upon pictures [he’d] tried to forget.” These pictures, from (the lyrics suggest) a failed relationship, cause him to recall the love lost between himself and the person to whom the lyrics are addressed.
While the song is absolutely a lament, the event described provides Gibbard an opportunity to reflect upon and process—rather than repress—the relationship and its end. The discovery described in “Title and Registration” interrupts Gibbard’s attempts to forget and provides him room for lamentation, which is made all the more meaningful by the music that accompanies his words.
Besides being both a student and a teacher with his own interests and occupations beyond the classroom, I have been blessed with two incredibly curious children and a wonderful, multi-talented wife who is active in our church and our community. We balance so many activities and interests that interruption is, for us, inevitable.
That is why one of my favorite meals to make is a simple concoction we created years ago, before we had kids, when life was different but just as busy.
-Chicken breasts (3-4)
-Bell peppers (2; green, yellow, or orange)
-Red onion (1)
-Large tomatoes (2)
-Vegetable farfalle or rigatoni (1 box; typically 12-13oz)
-Choice of dressing (we typically make our own vinaigrette, but ranch works just as well)
Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and season lightly with ground pepper. Bake according to directions (changes, obviously, depending on whether breasts are frozen or fresh). While chicken is baking, cook pasta; rinse cooked pasta with cold water immediately, drain, and place pasta in large bowl.
Chop bell peppers and onion; cut tomatoes into wedges. Place vegetables into bowl with pasta and mix.
Cube or slice cooked chicken depending on preference and place in bowl with other ingredients. Mix. Place bowl with all ingredients except dressing in refrigerator for at least one hour. Once chilled, serve in small bowls, mixing dressing into each small bowl immediately before serving.
What makes this dish especially wonderful is that its preparation can be done bit-by-bit over the course of a few hours (or even done a day ahead), allowing ample time for interruptions—whatever their source. Simply toss into a large bowl whatever has finished or has been cut up, cover with plastic wrap, and throw it in the refrigerator until you can come back to finish making the rest.
Help me to recognize the difference between
My plan and Your plan,
Interruptions and endings,
Desires and needs,
And to shift my focus
To that which is most meaningful,
To that which glorifies.
What often makes interruptions so troubling is our belief that time is limited. How often, when faced with distractions, will we say “I don’t have time for this”? I ask—of you, of myself—time for what?
What beauty may come from the serendipitous distraction? I intend to find out.
Beauty in the Interruptions
by David Alan Smith