Before the sun came up, I knew it was going to be a bad day. How’s that for prophetic vision? For starters, it was Monday, and as the Mamas and the Papas said, you can’t trust that day.
The alarm went off at precisely 4:15, and I was so tired I couldn’t get out of bed to catch the train into the city. It was pouring rain outside, so the commuter service would be problematic, and I’d get soaked.
I looked at the emails that came in during the night and realized I had to go to a dinner on Tuesday and wouldn’t get home until close to midnight. In addition, a report I was writing was due that day, along with my car taxes, but my wife wasn’t going to get to the tax collector’s office, so we would be paying a late fee. And the checks I needed to deposit wouldn’t make it in time to cover my bills. If I was lucky, there would still be enough cash in the account so nothing would bounce, but you never knew.
After showering and shaving and looking at the weather forecast, I reached a momentous decision – I would work from home. But working from home isn’t something I enjoy because the dog thinks it’s play time when I’m around, and it’s impossible to get things done. It’s really difficult to talk to clients because as soon as Bella sees me pick up the phone, she starts barking like a canine lunatic, and I have to retreat into the bathroom and close the door for some quiet. Then, she’ll stand outside and bark and scratch until I show my face. It’s nice to be loved.
Monday: you can’t trust that day. Sometimes complaining comes so naturally.
To add to my misery, the mailman came with a handful of bills, and among them was a letter from an 11-year-old boy named Mark, whom we sponsor in the Philippines through a Catholic relief organization.
I sat at the kitchen table and read the letter:
“Dear Sir Joseph:
“How are you? I hope you’re always in good condition and in good health. As for me and my family, we’re also fine, even though we suffered again a big flood some months ago. I was so sad for what happened. Almost all of our belongings were washed away by the floods, including my clothes, toys and chairs. But we always thank Jesus for our safety. No one was hurt. One week later, the flood happened again. It was two months before the flood was over. The government and the Catholic group gave us groceries.”
He went on to say how much he loves sports and playing ball at school and ended with, “I hope you enjoy reading my simple letter. May God bless you always.”
What had I been complaining about? The rain? My job? Bad train service? The dog’s barking? Seeing what other people endure and the gratitude of an 11-year-old boy after floods had washed away what they owned put everything back into perspective and shamed me.
My father, who was in Alcoholics Anonymous for the last 25 years of his life, always said to me, “You wouldn’t complain so much if you had the attitude of gratitude.” He based that on personal experience because some of his friends in the recovery program had lost everything in life – their spouses, their families, their careers, their jobs, their savings, their health, their reputations – and they were just grateful to be sober one day at a time. No complaining allowed.
In fact, I’ve often thought there should be another 12-step group in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and all the others – Complainers Anonymous. The world, me included, would be a much better place if we learned to appreciate what we have and helped people who had less.
For some, gratitude comes naturally, and it’s an inspiration and a joy to be around them. Others, sad to say, find misery even in a good life. Everyone’s life includes a measure of suffering, trials and pain, along with inconveniences and tribulations. Once we get past the notion that life isn’t a bed of roses, as my mother used to say, we can be thankful for the little things, the big things and even the adversities.
The Catholic author G.K. Chesterton once said, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
That night, I said extra prayers for Mark and his family. I prayed for their well-being and I prayed for my own spiritual rehabilitation. I prayed that I’d be given the gift of thanksgiving, because, after all, it is a gift.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.