Gratitude, Chicken Dinner, and Everything Else
By Renee Skudra
In my memory banks there resides, among a cornucopia of significant and insignificant information, something I heard somewhere from a friend that there is a Jewish tradition which encourages finding one hundred blessings every day. Although I think that is an admirable notion, admittedly it is a tall order when the normal demands of life command you to be present in a challenging myriad of ways. Still, it is easy to find many simple things which move one to gratitude. This is a story of such a simple thing which changed the structure of my life for one rainy day and the objects – a rotisserie chicken, two sides of roasted Brussel sprouts, rosemary potatoes, and scratch-made cornbread – which made an ordinary day an extraordinary one.
I call this my rotisserie chicken story which happened on a day when the air conditioning in the house suddenly stopped with no respect for the 90 degree heat, the car’s “check engine” light came on, a bout of bronchitis appeared, and a looming work deadline snuck up on me. Feeling anxious, I decided to drive to the Lowe’s in Kernersville where I grabbed a roasted chicken and several sides. As the store clerk began processing my items, I reached into my purse to retrieve a credit card which for some reason was not there. In a paroxysm of anxiety, I blurted out to the kind young woman who was now bagging my groceries that I had left my money at home. As tears of embarrassment formed in my eyes, I apologized profusely and offered to return everything to its original market home.
I began to retrieve the items from the paper bags when an instant later a deep voice boomed out behind me. “Please, take everything home and enjoy the dinner. It’s all on the house tonight!” The store manager, seemingly, appeared magically and struck down my emotional distress in that moment. Although I tried to turn down this lovely offer, he would not hear my remonstrations. He picked up a dark chocolate bar near the counter and said, “Here! Take this too!” I heard many people cheering vaguely from the end of the line and those adjacent to it and thanked him from the bottom of my swelling heart. Others were apparently happy for my good fortune, and I felt the beauty of the old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” His act of generosity had lifted all of us up at that moment.
Another small miracle greeted me as I drove home and pulled into my driveway. My neighbor was mowing my lawn! I jumped out of my car excitedly and asked him how much did he want for his efforts, to which he replied, “Nothing at all. The lawn needed doing,” and he waved me off summarily as he went into his home. A second scoop of good fortune had landed in my lap. At that moment I recalled the words I had come across in my readings somewhere: “Who is rich? The person who is happy with what he has.”
As I walked into my 75 year old house, besotted with innumerable issues, tarnished and tattered, cracked walls, torn-up floors, water leaking from the ceiling, I momentarily was filled with emotion and happiness for the good today that had been serendipitously bestowed upon our family. I walked over to my desk and thought about how every day brings opportunities to appreciate God’s goodness. I silently mouthed a prayer, content in that minute to simply have a roof, any roof, over our heads. I remembered the words a Quaker acquaintance shared with me when we sat by a lake in Greensboro, barred owls flying overhead and white-tailed deer grazing nearby: “just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” I was grateful for the insight and the shared intimacy of the moment.
Life is full of these teaching moments. I will never be able to look at a rotisserie chicken, Brussel sprouts, rosemary potatoes, cornbread, and a dark chocolate bar without recalling the kindness of a supermarket manager or forget the neighbor’s mowing our lawn. I have not reached my target of finding one hundred blessings each day. I will tell you, however, that I am on the journey. The “check engine” light miraculously disappeared and my girlfriend from a tiny town in Mississippi brought over a Southern dish of red beans and rice that I know was made with a bounteous helping of love. I feel grateful for the largess of a gifted dinner but more than that I feel grateful that one’s heart can expand to encompass the daily grace that touches each of us – the love of friends and family, the beauty of nature, the mundane and complex happenings that steer us through a world which offers up – if one only listens and observes closely – a miraculous world to be thankful for.