Gavin Johnston offers our Thursday Reflection:
I was towards the end of my week long road trip, but I was still over 800 miles from home and my money was drying up. I pulled into a McDonald’s in the countryside of North Carolina early in the morning, before it was even light out, attracted to the 2 Sausage Egg and Cheese McMuffins for 3 dollars. Over the last several years I had become a sort of food-elitist, only eating what I grew and raised myself. Any food I had to buy I got at the expensive food co-op in the town 30 miles away that had an Ivy-League College in it that cost over $40,000 a year to attend. I hadn’t eaten at a McDonald’s in all those years as a food-elitist, but gas and my organic eating habits on the road had eaten through my budget for the trip.
As I walked in, I said a little prayer for the factory-raised chickens and the pigs that contributed the eggs and sausage for the McMuffins I was going to order and I wondered how bad the karmic effects on my body would be for eating such things. There was an older gentleman putting in his order and the first thing I noticed was his ears. He was probably in his early eighties and like my grandfather he had these huge ears that farmers from the Greatest Generation seem to often have. Ears like that always seem to be possessed by earnest and hardworking men that can tell great stories about growing up in the country.
The next thing I noticed was how long it was taking to put in his order. For some reason at McDonald’s, all the intricacies of the order have to be entered into the cash register. The gentlemen asked specifically for five grape jellies and instead of just remembering to give him 5 grape jellies the order-taker punched that request into the cash register. The gentleman then asked for the gravy on the biscuits to be put on the side and instead of turning around and telling the cooks standing only several feet behind him to put the gravy on the side he struggled to find the proper key to indicate the request. My impatience started to grow as the complexity of the ordering process continued to grow – the exact amount of creamers and sugars for coffee, side orders, more preparation requests and so on. But seeing those ears reminded me I was standing behind a forthright man and suddenly my attention was drawn to his wife, probably of more than 50 years, patiently sitting in a booth waiting for the same breakfast they probably shared many times before together.
My impatience then disappeared and was replaced by reverence for this husband and wife and for the simple pleasures of life. Lost in my thoughts, my gaze remained on his wife as I thought of standing next to my grandmother’s deathbed only several months before watching her take her last breaths on the eve of her 61st wedding anniversary as my grandfather with the same big ears sobbed over her. As I reminisced, his wife looked up at me several times, but so deep in thought I just continued to stare and she just peacefully returned to reading the free newspaper that McDonald’s provide.
The order was finally completed and after all that the total was 6 dollars and some change. The gentleman knew how much the total was going to be because he had the exact change ready. Over the years, I had worked in fancy restaurants where it only took several seconds to tally up over 100 dollars of food. On this trip, I had even bought a coconut water that cost more than the whole meal that the husband and wife were about to share together. Perhaps realizing how long the order had taken, the gentleman turned around to me, but with all the earnestness I could muster I said “good morning” to him in a way that I hoped made him feel at total ease.
In my food-elitism and my dislike of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, I of course wanted to disconnect myself from such places so many use – examples of what is wrong with society. On this particular morning though, I’d sit down with my 2 Sausage Egg and Cheese McMuffins in deep reflection upon the fact that love, beauty, and truth can shine through any place at anytime. Who was I to say that a husband and wife who had probably carefully spent their money throughout their life couldn’t sit down and enjoy a nice inexpensive meal together just as beautifully as the fanciest dinner somewhere in some over-priced restaurant? I was only a few nights removed myself from a dinner out in which the bill left a knot in the pit of my stomach, but I’d sit down this morning for $3.21 in deep appreciation knowing that my grandfather would give anything to have one more such meal with his wife of almost 61 years waiting in the booth for him while he put the order in.
And I hope that any person behind him in line would realize the same things I did that morning.