A taste for adventure

Sometimes I wonder how the same gene combination and/or environmental upbringing can produce such a diverse crew of children. Sure, they all share a strong family resemblance -- even our adoptive child from the opposite side of the world does! But beneath the surface of similar physical features, our kids are an eclectic collection of characters.

Suffice it to say that if personalities were flavors, no one in our house would be vanilla, chocolate, strawberry -- or even chocolate chip. We’d range more from coffee, coconut and mango to wintergreen, licorice, and clove. Some of our children are more extroverted than others, but even the more reserved among them seem to put themselves out there. Every one of them has strong opinions and tastes that they are generally more than willing to share with just about anyone they encounter. They are also very willing to battle those perspectives out at dinner conversations.

I really appreciate something our kids have in common, though, and that is their enthusiasm for trying new things. They seem to know that they don’t have to be completely comfortable in every situation, or with every group of people. “Unfamiliar” isn’t synonymous with “bad”; “different” can be interesting and even exciting. Being open doesn’t mean being undiscerning. You don’t have to like everything you try. But if you only try what you already know suits you, your world is a shrinking piece of real estate. Adventurous souls are never bored. Your next challenge can be as close as your next meal.

In our house, the kid who has the most literal taste for adventure is indisputably our 11-year-old son, Austin. Austin has always been a stealthy child. He knows how to keep his head down, fly under the radar, and look adorably cute when caught. Though he’s rather quiet, Austin is a very intense boy. He does everything with the kind of gusto that reminds me of Zorba the Greek. Austin plays hard, dreams big, and is always imagining some kind of adventure. A devotee of television shows like “Man vs. Wild” and just about everything on Animal Planet, Austin delights in sampling exotic foods. From his perspective, the more bizarre, the better.

This July I drove to New Hampshire to pick Austin up from his first trip to Boy Scout camp. Last year, when he just went along for the ride, Austin noticed a curious little butcher shop called The Healthy Buffalo. He got my husband to stop, and they came home with venison medallions and ground bison. This year, Austin had even bigger plans.

I like a few game meats myself, but I have to admit that I was pushing the outside of my envelope when we tried the samples of stewed kangaroo. Earlier that day there had been a news report of an Australian woman being attacked by a kangaroo. I figured that turn about was fair play, but that didn’t stop the psychological factor from kicking in. Austin, however, loved it, and asked for more. This year, we bought some buffalo and ostrich burgers, smoked buffalo sausage, and the pièce de résistance -- a package of frozen alligator tail meat. The burgers and sausage were delicious. Somehow, though, I haven’t quite gotten around to cooking the alligator tail, despite the 12 pages of recipes Austin printed out from the Internet. (My prediction is that Austin will love it, and that I will like it, but never be able to eat it again.)

Not everything is for everyone, but there is someone suited for just about anything you can think of. That is true not only about how we see things, or what we like to eat, but also about our Catholic life of faith. It can be disarming to realize that our callings are ours, and not necessarily applicable to others. God has created each one of us for a unique holiness, which, like a fingerprint is ours and ours alone. But that doesn’t mean that we should seek to live out our faith in a small or restrictive manner. The narrow way is not found only in a narrow space.

The joy of Catholic discipleship is the variety of flowers in the garden, and the array of tastes on the table. Loving the God who loves us is an invitation to savor the Christian adventure. Not all of us will like the mushrooms, and some of us may well cringe at the thought of caviar. Still, there is assuredly a dish or two for every one of us, and for each one we manage to bring to the table with us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.