We were living in a small college town in Colorado at the time, and I was expecting our first child within a week. Thanksgiving was only a day away, but I wasn't feeling very grateful.
Rather, I was feeling heavy. And I was beginning to wonder if that child would ever be born. I thought it might help to get out and walk, to get some fresh air, perhaps fresh inspiration.
We lived a few blocks from the quaint downtown. I ambled past the immense library, but I wasn't in the mood for a book. Maybe a little Christmas shopping would make me feel better, I thought. So I shuffled through some gift shops, and got plenty of ideas.
But I had no business spending money, really: My husband's salary was only $400 a month. That's hard for me to believe, now. But the cheerful, furnished apartment was rent-free as we were the apartment managers; the electric bill was $5 tops per month; and we actually owned our Oldsmobile, a big tank of a thing. I remember spending $20 a week on three or four bags of groceries, including round steaks. There was never a lot left over. But what more could we have wanted?
Nevertheless, I couldn't shake the dumpy feeling that morning. My husband was at work and wouldn't be home for hours. Friends were tied up with family obligations, and the rest of my family was hundreds of miles away. So I trudged aimlessly down the sidewalk, bundled against the bitter cold, wearing what must have been a deep frown.
Suddenly, a car pulled up to the curb next to me. A young man popped his head out the back window, looked right at me, and cheerfully yelled out, "Hey! Smile!"
Startled, I did just that.
And how good it felt! It was as if heavy clouds had busted wide open to reveal brilliant sunshine. Now, had my husband told me to cheer up, I can assure you I would not have complied. But a stranger! I walked on air the whole way home, smiling at everyone I passed.
There was much to smile about. We had spectacular views of the Rockies. The apartment building housed several young couples; we had great friends just steps away. My husband was working on airplanes - something he loved - and getting paid for it. I was working on an art project that gave me immense satisfaction. Thanksgiving would be spent enjoying a tasty meal and playing games with upbeat neighbors.
And any day a child would arrive and the three of us would have a modest, but cozy Christmas.
Gratitude is a point of view.
This Thanksgiving season, I'd like to thank that young man, wherever he may be, for his bravery. For saying what most might not have dared. For piercing the gloom. For waking me to the simple, abundant good that surrounded me.
What he did for me that cold November morning was not just for the moment. More than 25 Thanksgivings later, thinking about it still makes me smile.