As the men gathered around the table in the back of the Main Café last Saturday morning for the fellowship breakfast, the unofficial agenda seemed to be listing all of the ways the world was going to hell — Ukraine, inflation, the Jan. 6 Commission hearings, apocalyptic climate change, monkeypox, too much rain in Missouri, not enough rain in Arizona.
When everyone had assembled, Alice approached the big table with a smile and said, “Good morning, Gentlemen.”
Seven jaws dropped. This was the second Saturday in a row in which their normally irascible server had been pleasant, and that one cheerful greeting seemed to turn the switch on the conversation to topics like having fun with the grandchildren and the nice weather they’d been having all week and how the Senate seemed to be actually passing legislation.
When the conversation got around to the Cubs, the men even talked about how interesting it was to see the young players develop instead of lamenting how the team sucked on the field.
“Today,” thought Pastor Walter Mitty, “the glass seems to be three-quarters full.”
As he walked home along Main Street he noticed that many of the shops had their doors open to let the cooler morning air come in. Bernie Rolvaag was on the phone in his bookstore but waved as Mitty passed by.
What made the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church suspect there was something in the air, even more than Alice’s congeniality, was when he passed Sarge’s army surplus store and through the open door he heard a recording of Louis Armstrong singing, “What a Wonderful World.”
When he got home, he sat down at his desk to open the pile of mail that had accumulated during the last few days. After throwing five fundraising letters from charities into the recycling basket, he came to an envelope from his sister-in-law up in Manitowoc. She wrote,
Just wanted you to know that I and the boys often mention how much you mean to us. Especially for that year when Herman was dying and you were there for us.
At the bottom of the pile was last Wednesday’s issue of the Poplar Park Times with a picture of Isabella Garcia on the front page and the headline, “Ten-year-old helps homeless camp mates.” The article described how, when she learned there were homeless kids right in her own summer camp, the fourth-grader got online, asking her friends and neighbors to donate what she called “cool clothes for kids.”
In the weekly calendar, he saw that a choir called Sounds Good was giving a concert in a local church. What grabbed his attention was that they did not hold auditions. Anyone over 55 could join no matter how bad your adult children told you your singing was.
Through his open window he heard a cardinal chirping away.
“Today,” thought Pastor Walt, “even if it lasts only 24 hours, today the glass is three-fourths full here in Poplar Park.”
Being a single guy with no spouse to share his emotional ups and downs, he dialed up his friend and neighbor Michael Rosenthal.
“This is the day the Lord hath made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Mitty exclaimed before Michael could even say hello.
“Psalm 118, Michael.”
“I know that, Walt, but what put this usually melancholy guy from Wisconsin in such a good mood?”
Pastor Mitty proceeded to detail to his friend how today, at least, he was able see all of the good and even beautiful that existed in their little suburb of Chicago.
“Can you believe it, Michael? Sarge had the door of his store open, and I heard Louis Armstrong singing ‘What a Wonderful World.’”
“Did you also smell reefer smoke coming out the door along with the music?”
“No Michael, but on top of that Alice at the Main was genuinely pleasant.”
After their conversation ended, Pastor Walt got to thinking. “Was today better than other days, or was I just more open to the good around me that’s been there all the time?”
Then his mind segued somehow to the Eisenhower Expressway, how in the spring the litter alongside the road was ugly and unsightly but, like magic, the grass grew tall and the bushes leafed out hiding the crap with green.
Was everybody doing a better job of faking it today, or were his eyes more open to beauty or was it a random case of grace sometimes just happening?
Every once in a while before going to bed, he liked to turn off the lights, light a candle and just sit for 20 minutes in the soft light.
He didn’t know for sure if God had anything to do with the gift of a good day, but after blowing out the candle, he said “thank you” anyway.
Tom Holmes is a regular contributor to Wednesday Journal and the Forest Park Review.