UUFE’s Gayle Scroggs shared her experience at our Gratitude and Grace service, November 19.
Exactly ten years ago I was living five thousand miles away in Argentina, with my beloved Roberto, in a leafy gated community on the outskirts of his native city of San Nicolas. That was the Thanksgiving when I really learned the meaning of gratitude.
Picture us on Thanksgiving Wednesday, a beautiful day in Spring, the jacaranda and bougainvillea in full bloom. . . And in the kitchen, me, the U.S. expat bustling about, making a pumpkin pie and stuffing for the turkey Roberto had magically procured so I could continue to celebrate my customs. When we sat down to lunch, Roberto informed me that he needed to drive to Rosario after we finished eating. His old Ford Galaxy was nearly dead, so he wanted to take “my” car, a Bora (Jetta in the US). Roberto had bought it brand new and given to me as a sort of wedding gift.…My inner Californian loved that car—it was silver, a turbo model with a moonroof…and one of my greatest pleasures was exploring the countryside with Roberto, discovering all kinds of things: red-festooned roadside shrines to Gauchito Gil (the Argentine Robin Hood), noisy green parrots in old stands of eucalyptus trees, disappearing lagoons with white ibises, and of course, wayside restaurants with grilled beef and French fries. Sometimes we took longer trips–to the wilds of Patagonia, the ruins of Misiones, the deserted Atlantic beaches.
After lunch, I walked Roberto out to the car to kiss him good-bye….and he took off for the nearby Pan American Highway. I was only outside a few minutes, but the sun was glaring so hard that I immediately sought refuge inside again. About an hour later, the phone rang…It was Roberto. He had been in a car accident. “Are you okay?” “Si, si.” “Is anybody else hurt?” “No, I just went off the road…didn’t hit anything….I think I was blinded by the sun.” “I’m glad you’re okay…. how’s the car?” Long pause. “Well…not so good–when I hit the cement culvert, I’m pretty sure the axle broke.” “Well, not to worry, the insurance will take care of it.” Another pause. “Ummm…. I don’t think so.” “Why not?” “Because I only insured it for total loss….and while this is pretty bad, it is not a total loss.”
It took a few moments for me to process this strange insurance of “total loss only”—and then it sunk in: We had just become carless and, given our farm debts and the bad economy, we would likely remain so for years. “You what?! What were you thinking?!” Then realizing he was still shaken, I calmed down and apologized. “We can talk later.”
After I hung up, I stormed around the house…I began ruminating about how terrible life would be without a car. How would we get groceries? How could we visit anyone? Or go anywhere?! Deprivation and self-pity ruled my thoughts. . . until I was interrupted by a sound from outside: [Clap, clap, clap.]
Clapping meant someone had arrived at our gate…. I went outside and saw it was Manuela, a 13-year-old girl from the nearby poor barrio–a mess of shanties on dirt roads teeming with mangy dogs and boys kicking soccer balls about. Ordinarily the kids from there were barred from our neighborhood, but I had personally given Manuela permission to stop by once a week to ask me for one thing her family needed–flour or rice or sugar, or whatever, to which I would add cookies or other treats. (As the one and only expat in the area, Roberto and the other locals put up with my idiosyncrasies.)
I greeted her as usual: “Hi, Manuela, what would you like today?”
“Um….well….is it possible that you might have some really worn out sneakers that you don’t need, that you were going to throw out. . . that I could wear to school?” I looked down at her feet–she was wearing flip-flops…. dangerous, I thought. I ran my gaze over the bike…. very rusty…. I smiled at her little brother, perched on the back, hair in his eyes, his face smudged with dirt. He was completely barefoot.
I took in the whole scene…and a lightning bolt hit me: I had been fretting about not having a car. . .. and here were two children with no shoes. No shoes! “Tell you what, Manuela, come back Saturday, and you and I will take the bus into town and I will get you knew sneakers just the right size.” She agreed (and, to be honest, she seemed more puzzled than pleased) and rode off with her hermanito.
As for me…. I walked slowly back to the house in deep contemplation: “I’ve NEVER gone without shoes…. or clothes…or food…or decent shelter. I’ve gone to good schools. . . and lived in a safe, stable environment. That’s more than can be said by 99% of the world’s population. Who cares about a car when I have everything—and more—that a person needs to live a fulfilling life?
How could I have taken so many blessings for granted?! I know that they came to me through grace, not merit. I am so very fortunate! In that moment, the spirit of real gratitude found a place in my heart. . . where it still lives. May it always be so. Happy Thanksgiving!