I have been at my current teaching position for roughly 10 years, I bought a house nearly three years ago, I have two healthy young boys, a beautiful wife, reliable vehicles and decent health insurance. To me, this is an impressive list of accomplishments and a list I am proud of and yet every once in a while I find myself taking it all for granted. Wondering what will come next instead of being thankful for what is in front of me. I have a pretty solid belief foundation but sometimes the sign has to be blazing neon before I read the sign and the other day I was blinded. The sign as bright as a snow covered field on a sunny spring day.
I ran to the local grocery store during my lunch break to grab some ice cream and green food coloring for a St. Patrick’s Day treat with my class. The children always get a kick out of green toilet bowl water. And since I was in a rush ,the 14 items or fewer line curved like a snake around the sale bin of Kraft Mac and Cheese. In front of me was a kind old man wearing his World War Veteran Hat with pride, as he should. We quickly struck up a conversation. Our conversation about our odd snow patterns this winter were punctuated with moments of silence. I knew he wanted to chat more but my casual conversation skills are not up to par. So in an awkward attempt to strike up a conversation I commented on his cereal choice. “Frosted Flakes, those were my favorite growing up”. “They make them with marshmallows now” was his reply, “but at my age I am allowed to eat whatever I want.” And here was my window to open our dialogue to a man who clearly wanted to share. He told me that he was 92 and since taking a bullet in the war he tired to balance exercise with eating well with occasional treats such as Frosted Flakes for an evening snack. “You were shot? Did you get to go home? Do you remember being shot?” I asked. For one second, I thought maybe this was too personal and then he began his tale. I was all hears. Anyone that would risk their life to protect our freedom is already a hero in my eyes and this man had a tale. He told me that he was walking through an abandoned town in Germany and they heard shots so he crouched with his head down behind a pile of rocks. He then heard a shot and felt a sting- since his head was down the bullet entered his neck and traveled down his body lodging near his lungs. And then he woke up in the hospital. “I still have the damn bullet hanging on my wall” he said proudly. I asked if he got to go home. He gave me a big chuckle and said, “they didn’t send you home they just hoped you got better so you could go back out but I got lucky, the war ended while I spent four months in the hospital. Horrible food, no family and not one person to visit me the entire time. It took me a long time to heal and I still can’t use my right arm. ”
His voice got a bit solemn as he told me his next thought, “that one sniper shot me and sent me off the battlefield, I am 92 now and that guy who shot me probably died not to long after he fired. His bullet is framed on my wall now.” And then he checked out and at 92 proudly carried his Frosted Flakes, milk and chocolate chip cookies to the car. I was a little in awe and felt like an ass for complaining about how busy my day felt so far.
And as if that were not enough of a reminder to be thankful for all that I have, the second sign was seconds behind the first. I was walking to my car after buying St. Patrick’s Day party supplies and the man collecting the carts followed me out the door and then quickly passed me, rushing to gather that lonely carts strewn all over the snowy parking lot. I have seen this guy a number of times before and it is clear he has a disability of some kind. It was not a warm day but not freezing. I commented on how quickly he was moving and how efficient he was. He proudly took off his baseball cap and showed me his head, pouring with sweat. ” I move fast to get these carts. I have been doing this for many years. I am the best at it.” And he ran off to bring the grocery carts back inside- pushing nearly 20 at a time back to the store. And again I realized that I have so much to be thankful for- stop looking to what I don’t have or how hard a day maybe and stop- be thankful for all that I do have and acknowledge the good around me.
The Vet who was shot and the best grocery cart collector in the mid-coast would think of my complaints as luxuries.