At age eighteen I was a young whippersnapper. A college man with a bright future, no one could tell me a thing. Always wore snappy clothes, went to the right parties, planned to become a lawyer, and live the good life. Then things started to go wrong.
First, the family business went under. Mom and Dad couldn’t pay my college bills and support my fancy lifestyle any longer. I had to get a job but didn’t have any marketable skills. The first job I could find was bussing tables in a diner. Nasty work, cleaning tables where other people had eaten, picking up their dirty dishes, and many days my mood was snarly because I had to do ‘manual labor’. Looking back, that job paid my bills and kept me fed, plus I got to meet a lot of people. One of those people was Gert. Gert came in every day for a cup of coffee. Just a cup of coffee because that was all he could afford. I thought Gert was a crazy old fellow. He was delusional – always happy when he had nothing to be happy about. He was old, walked with a cane, didn’t own a car, and was too broke to afford a meal in a diner. He would greet everyone he met with, “Happy Wednesday or Happy Thursday” like every day was a celebration or something. I was young, educated, and knew better, so I just smirked and left him to his insanity.
Then the blackest day of my young life rolled around. It was a Monday. I failed my final exams, my girlfriend broke up with me – she wanted a boyfriend with money, and the diner had to let me go because business had fallen off. I sat on a bench and went over all my misfortunes. Bad grades, no girl, no job, no money, no life. Who should sit next to me on the bench but crazy Gert? “Happy Monday!”, he said.
I was in no mood for his senility. “Get real old man. You are old. You walk with a cane. You have no money, no job, and no girlfriend.”
Gert looked at me, smiled, and said,” The sun is shining. I am grateful for that. What are you grateful for?
At first, I could only keep going over what I didn’t have, no job, no money, no girlfriend. It didn’t help that Henry drove past in his shiny new Ford. I was jealous of Henry, cruising the boulevard while I sat on a bench with crazy Gert, who found such pleasure in simple things like sunshine.
Gert continued, “I didn’t ask for the sun to shine today. It just did. The best gifts are given without you asking for them and that sunshine is a welcome gift.”
I started looking for the gifts in my life instead of what I didn’t have. I had the sunshine, I had enough money to cover bills until the end of the month, and I had a great smile. I felt better after thinking what I was grateful for and decided to think about my gratitude every day. At first negatives would creep in, but I stuck with it and before long I started finding more things to be grateful for. My attitude changed. People liked being around me and I connected with a wonderful study group. My grades improved and I completed my college degree. After graduation, I was offered a job as a law clerk. I continued to find at least five things every day I could be grateful for. Then I met Martha on a Tuesday.
Martha was a clerk at the five and dime store. She told every customer to “Have a Terrific Tuesday!” I smirked because it was cheesy, but I noticed that every customer left that store with a smile. I went back to the five and dime on Wednesday and there was Martha, wishing customers “a wonderful Wednesday”. I asked if she would like a soda after her shift.
Martha has been my wife for fifty years. Gert has been gone a long time, but I think of him often and I am grateful for the way he changed my life one sunny Monday. Sometimes over the years, it was tough to go to work on a Monday morning after the weekend. But before I left the house I would always tell Martha “Happy Monday” and she would tell me “Have a marvelous Monday.” And it was a marvelous day because I could always find five things to be grateful for.