One winter when we worked in the Everglades, in the “slow season” between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I was assigned to work a banquet for low-income senior citizens from Miami. I wasn’t real thrilled about it, because my experience with traveling seniors in a higher income bracket wasn’t the most positive. While I hate to indict all seniors (even as I am, now, one myself), the majority of those I came in contact with had been whining complainers (except for those in Elderhostel – they were living la vida loca and loving every minute of it). I remember asking one angry senior one morning, as she complained bitterly about everything that was wrong as I led her to her table, “What can I do to make you happy?” and I sincerely meant it, because she was so miserable, I wanted to help her out however I could. “Nothing!” she spat at me. “All righty-then, I thought,” and realized she must have been getting something out of her misery to have clung to it so stubbornly. And I got as far away from her as I could so as not to infect my day.
But I digress. I was talking about a tiny bit of dread over having to work with this group of seniors. I tried to psych myself up before the event, and promised myself that I would give them the best service possible …. even if they were miserable. The first thing I had to psych myself about was their meal: Their “banquet” consisted of hot dogs on squishy white buns, baked beans, potato chips, and tiny squares of chocolate cake, all served outdoors, in a screened-in patio (The Buttonwood, for any Flamingo-ites reading this) beneath the main dining room. But, to my utter surprise and delight, these folks were thrilled – thrilled! – with this meager meal of hot dogs. I’d been serving gourmet meals to guests in the dining room above for a few seasons, and, well, I was almost embarrassed to be offering this flimsy fare to these seniors.
But yet, every single one of them wore a massive smile, and there wasn’t a pianissimo of protest among any of them, even as many were slapping mosquitoes that found their way in around the seams of the screening. As I offered another hot dog to an elderly, black, bent-over, nearly toothless woman, she looked up at me and with such genuine delight, exclaimed, “Isn’t this a great day?” She glowed. Really. Over a hot dog. Her expression of this heartfelt sentiment was so sincere, that it brought tears to my eyes. She gave me a great gift that day – that enjoying the present moment was an unwrapped present, that every day and every moment can be extra-special and feel like the blessing of Thanksgiving if we focus on the bounty of good that surrounds us and slap away the occasional not-so-good, as if it were just some annoying mosquito.
And sure, despite this wise Zen master grandma bestowing the secret of life and thanksgiving onto me – simply and without ceremony – I’ve got to admit I’m still learning the lesson. There are days when I forget it. But, on most of those days, I just see her smile and hear her in my head saying – “Isn’t this a great day?” – and I’m snapped back into realizing that, yes, it is, and I am thankful, yet again, for her gracious gift.