It was a Grey Rainy Monday morning in September as I sat in my favorite booth at the local McDonalds, enjoying a cup of coffee while writing my thoughts into Google Docs.
Suddenly, I overheard a loud conversation coming from the high top tables. I looked up and, although I felt a bit annoyed at the interruption, I was compelled to People Watch, sometimes known as eavesdropping.
Her name was Peggy, I know because, a woman announced, “Good to see you Peggy.” Peggy called her friend “Florence” and invited her to sit with her. I assumed by Peggy’s swift movements, exuberant smile and change in voice tone, that Peggy and Florence knew each other well, and Peggy was about to announce something BIG. Peggy’s excitement came through “loud and clear.” It seemed she was dying to share this thing with Florence, but, of course, she wasn’t aware she’d be sharing it with me too.
“Florence,” she said, “Tony and I are leaving for Washington DC tomorrow.” Peggy continued explaining to Florence that in their 40 years of marriage, neither of them had been south of Philadelphia. This was going to be their “dream” vacation. As I listened, Peggy continued explaining to Florence how their two grown children had surprised them with money for this “once in a lifetime” trip. Florence congratulated Peggy on her 40 years of marriage to Tony, and then exclaimed, “Wow! 40 years with the same man!” This was foreign to Florence since, as she explained to Peggy, her three marriages combined hadn’t added up to twenty. Peggy said she knew they were lucky to have found each other and after forty years continue to be “crazy in love.”
Peggy explained to Florence how difficult it was to find a hotel room close to the White House for $60 a night, but with perseverance she found it. Peggy was happy, knowing it would allow them to spend two nights in DC, instead of one.
At this point, I was thinking how horrible this hotel was going to be, including the bed bugs they would encounter. I visualized a dirty room with shag carpet and a smelly bathroom and I knew they could not possibly be within walking distance to anything. Peggy continued, enthusiastically detailing their two-day plan which included a “Walk by Photo Op” of the White House.
Florence asked Peggy if they would be visiting the Smithsonian. “Absolutely,” she replied, it was Tony’s idea to walk there and hunt for Archie Bunker’s Chair. “But,” she continued, “it is my dream to find building five. You know Florence, that is where the First Ladies’ Inaugural Dresses are on display, including Jackie Kennedy’s.” Peggy smiled, “My Tony, on the other hand, is most excited to stand in reverence before the Vietnam Memorial. He plans to search for his ‘navy buddies’ names on the wall.”
Peggy smiled and explained to Florence that they planned to eat breakfast at the hotel because it was included in the price of the room. Peggy explained there would be a small refrigerator in the room, allowing her to bring lunch meat, cheese,and snacks saving them a “ton” of money. Her plan was to make the sandwiches in the morning, place them in her insulated backpack, then head out on their Anniversary Adventure.
I listened to Peggy’s voice become animated, almost childlike, as she described surprising Tony with the “Two For Twenty” steak dinner at Applebees, (a less than perfect place to celebrate 40 years of marriage, I thought). She explained their plan was to return home the following morning, allowing Tony to go to work.
Peggy had carefully planned the entire trip, including the hotel cost, sharing with Florence that there would be fifty dollars leftover for food and maybe a souvenir. Peggy continued excitedly, mentioning the two twenty dollar gas cards given to them by Tony’s sister Angela. She asked Florence if she thought that would be enough. Florence smiled and assured Peggy that it would buy plenty of gas to fill their little car. But then Florence asked if Peggy owned an I-Pass for the tolls they would encounter on Route 95. Peggy looked rather concerned and answered “No,” but she could work it out by waiting to pay a small bill until they returned home.
I continued observing Peggy and Florence as they lovingly related to each other. It was evident they had something special going on, because Florence listened intently and was not only interested in Peggy’s adventure, but was happy, encouraging and honest with her. Peggy and Florence said their goodbyes, then gave each other a hug. Florence wished Peggy a Happy Anniversary and a good trip.
I slowly wandered back to my writing, but suddenly my thoughts weren’t so important. I continued reflecting on Peggy and Florence’s conversation, remembering every detail. Yes, I was People Watching (eavesdropping) but, at that moment, I realized so much more was going on here.
I observed Peggy’s enthusiasm not only for her upcoming trip, but for her life. It was obvious to me she possessed very little monetarily, but her childlike excitement was captivating and energizing as she described her upcoming trip/celebration. I noticed Florence listening to every detail her friend shared with her. She was genuinely excited for Peggy, and remained both physically and emotionally present throughout their conversation, while not once talking about herself. . I thought to myself, “Would I be so excited about a little trip to DC?” This was a trip I’d taken too many times over the years for business, travelling by train, air and car. I visited the Smithsonian, ducking in and out of taxis and believe me, it was no big deal. When friends from out of town visited, I was their tour guide, and would ask my congressman to supply tickets for a tour of the White House. IT WAS NO BIG DEAL!
I thought of Peggy and Tony’s dinner at Applebees, a chain restaurant that, in my judgement, was just ok, but would never be the place to celebrate forty years of marriage. And then, suddenly I realized I was totally missing the point and out of touch with the real stuff. I asked myself a question, “Who was I to Pass Judgement?”
At that moment I felt it was time for me to sit down and consider the small things, to count my blessings, to revisit being present with and listening to others. I was humbled and I was ashamed that sometimes I complain about my life. I realized how lucky I’d been my whole life, but suddenly this voice in my head reminded me to “Get Real.” Yes, of course I was counting my blessings and reminding myself of how important it is to listen to others, but I was also reminded that my life had not always been so easy. In fact, there were times when I was Peggy, when life for me was downright TOUGH.
I’d forgotten about the very Late Electric Bill when our service was interrupted. It was during that same period of time that my husband’s family business was an absolute Train Wreck and I was required to return to work for financial survival. It was interesting that I would remember the good parts of my life…there was always enough to eat, and we had clothes to wear…but I failed to remember the credit card debt which nearly sent us into bankruptcy. I mentally removed myself from those difficult times of stress, shame and scarcity. My husband and I came very close to losing our home, having little income for almost a year. This placed a tremendous amount of pressure on our family and our marriage, eventually sending us to a Therapist. It was a long painful process but we found our way back, and decided our “Marriage was worth Saving.”
Today I ask myself this question, “How have I become so ‘insulated,’ ‘comfortable’ and ‘out of touch’? Did I really forget those painful and difficult days, or did I choose to forget them?” Thinking about them now brought back some of the pain and made me feel vulnerable again. I suddenly remembered the feeling of helplessness which had at times paralyzed me.
I asked myself, “Who am I to judge the Hotel Room where Peggy and Tony would be staying?” It was obviously more important for her to be with Her Tony, happy and satisfied with less than perfect. I also recognized that I was making a judgement about their dinner at Applebees. Peggy wasn’t thinking about the “Ambience” but about being present with Her Tony, celebrating their wonderful 40 years of marriage. It was then I could visualize the two of them smiling and looking into each other’s eyes as they sat at dinner.
Soon I began thinking how privileged I have been in my life. I am privileged to have children who love me and who’ve stepped up during happy as well as difficult times. I began listing every country and state I had visited over the years remembering that It was only because of my husband’s job that we were able to travel to these places. I remembered the amazing people we were privileged to meet on those trips and the memories made each time.
I thought of my friends, who invited me to accompany them on a cruise after my husband’s death. My good friend Kathy, who suggested we take a Girls Trip to Norway including cruising through the fjords (all expenses paid). My two friends who arranged transportation from Chicago to Pennsylvania to bury my Grandson Kevin following his suicide. These friends knew we were in shock and weren’t capable of making even the simplest decisions. They were two of many friends who mourned with me when Kevin’s mother, our addicted daughter Ginger, recently passed. I am grateful now for Don, a wonderful man who loves me, laughs with me, cries with me, and chooses to be present in my life. So many others have shown up over the years standing beside me and giving me encouragement. I am reminded of My Friend Bob whose generosity I have personally experienced, and who each time he offers grace at meals ends with, “And help us to be mindful of the needs of others.”
Peggy, I didn’t know you personally, but I observed and listened carefully as you shared your simplicity and zest for life. You are grateful, positive, and have energized me, causing me to remember where I came from, to live simply, and to focus on the important parts of my life. Thank you for becoming my teacher! I hope this Anniversary Celebration with Your Tony is all you hoped and dreamed about.
Simple Gratitude. I GET IT!