I didn’t set out to blog about Thanksgiving. In fact, I swore I wouldn’t. I’m a guest this year, so I’m not brining a turkey in a forty-gallon washtub or surfing the Internet for gluten-free stuffing and sugar-free pie. And the world has enough of the “what I’m thankful for” posts that crop up each year like stalks of ornamental corn. My position on gratitude is that it should be a daily practice, carried out in private. Count your blessings and thank who you wish. Just leave it at that.
Nevertheless, it is true that being grateful can become rushed and rote, like the “God bless Mommy and Daddy” prayers of my childhood. I repeated them each night, my eyelids heavy, not fully aware of what I was saying or why. Gratitude can be like that. Even in the face of poverty, illness, and suffering, it is easy to take our blessings for granted, but the source—whatever you call Him/Her/It— finds unexpected ways to make its presence known.
Mid-afternoon one day last week, I was browsing dinner recipes when I found a hearty soup that called for leeks. I headed for Publix and pulled into the lot—slowly, as I’ve seen too many parking lot fender benders not to be cautious. Usually, I leave the close spaces for the retirees who share this Hilton Head community, but that day I felt a little creaky from a new exercise class. I bypassed a few spaces and eased into one not far from the store’s entrance.
Eased is the critical word here. The landscaped islands that divide the lot into rows have low curbing that scrapes the underside of my front bumper if I’m not careful, so my foot was on the brake. I had nearly stopped when the car roared like a Ninja and leapt the curb. Suddenly airborne across a five-foot island, I saw myself crashing through parked cars and mowing down innocent shoppers. Scant seconds later, the car came to rest—gently—in the vacant handicapped space on the other side of the barrier, as if the car had overruled my choice of parking space and taken an unconventional route to get there.
I don’t know what caused my car to take off like a rocket; it may have been unintended acceleration, a mechanical defect that has caused terrible tragedies. Nor do I know what stopped my flight. What I do know is that, in a busy parking lot, I selected one of the few spaces with no vehicle parked opposite, navigated between a metal signpost and an ornamental tree, and struck nothing but a shopping cart. I am profoundly grateful that what might have been a horrible tragedy was no more than an embarrassing incident that means the next time I shop at Publix, I’ll wear Groucho glasses and a mustache.
Joking aside, I can’t stop wondering why it happened, and maybe that’s why it did. This year, I have a new definition of “what I’m thankful for” that transcends the things we ask for and do—or do not—get. That’s why I’m sharing a special kind of gratitude: for the blessings I receive that I don’t know I need.