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There's a television show leaves me in tears every time I watch it. Not "The Biggest Loser" or "The Bachelor," but the Food Network's "Restaurant Impossible." It isn't just because the food looks delicious, and I'm usually sitting on the couch with a bowl of cereal, but because the handful of episodes I've seen included some poignant lessons on family and priorities.
The show follows chef Robert Irvine -- a part-time Hilton Head Island resident who owns Robert Irvine's eat! on Hilton Head and Robert Irvine's Nosh in Bluffton -- as he visits struggling restaurants all over the country. In two days, everything from bland menus to tacky dècor is remedied to give eateries a second chance at success. However, the unexpected spiritual insight I found watching the show doesn't come from learning which ingredients needed to be switched from frozen to fresh. It's the encouragement and guidance Irvine gives to the families he encountered.
In the case of two family-run restaurants he visited, the stress of the failing business had caused friction between the husband, wife and children involved. Sisters tearfully confronted their parents, telling them they felt that mom and dad's attempt at running the restaurant had left them in a distant second place. Another family's angry shouting matches had started drowning out the guests' conversations in the dining room. Irvine sat them all down and explained that their relationships with each other were far more important than the success of their business. As families tearfully remembered how important they were to each other, I found that I had something in my eye too.
While I know that people are more important than things, it resonates when I hear another family being sternly lectured that they need to place their relationships above their deadlines and spreadsheets. I don't own a restaurant, but I am definitely guilty of placing the obligations I feel to work and outside activities above my family and friends. Especially now that my siblings and I are all grown up and scattered across the country, I realize I can go weeks without actually speaking with them in person -- relying on Facebook statuses to know that they had a snow day or received an "A" on a test.
No one balances life perfectly -- to have friends and family means that, inevitably, you will make mistakes in relating to them. We postpone or cancel vacations for fear of missing a promotion. We work late hours to lavish those we care about with gifts. However, years from now, what will remain as important in our lives? Our status? The stuff we bought? Or the people we missed along the way?
We don't know when our lives will end, but we know it's inevitable. Therefore, we should be working backward from the finish line. What do we want to be known for? What -- and who -- do we want to know? Can we say, with confidence, that the people we love are aware that we care about them? Each stage of our life holds its own set of worries -- college applications, jobs, mortgages, retirement -- but when we face these anxieties, do we remember that no "thing" is more important than people?
We're in the middle of Lent -- the 40 days before Easter when we often give things up to prepare to remember the sacrifice of Christ. This Lent, I'm trying to take Irvine's lecture to heart -- and "give up" some of my misplaced priorities to refocus on what really matters. Instead of flipping on the TV or computer when I'm relaxing in the evenings, first I'm going to call or send a note to someone I care about. As inspirational as the Food Network and online photo albums can be, I want to be sure that I've done what I can to let the people I love know that they're important to me.
Follow columnist Alison Griswold at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.