When my kids were growing up, I began most dinners with the question, “What was the best thing about your day?” If I knew they’d had an awful day, I started with “What was the worst thing about your day?” Then when they were ready, we’d move on to the best thing.
Telling stories about a success, funny experience, or something they enjoyed seemed to make their pleasure grow. Yet when we talked about a disappointment, injustice or hurt, it seemed to go the other way. It was as though the very act of articulating their painful experience helped soothe their anguish.
Maybe we’re all like that, and maybe not just about days, but about life in general.
My life is pretty darn nice. My husband and I have jobs that enable us to eat (far too) well; we have as much to read as we could ever want; we travel, drive decent worry-free cars, and have managed to give the kids straight teeth, proactive medical care and an excellent education. I expect all this– even when I sweat the details.
Sometimes those details smell very sweaty, indeed. I worry about paying the kids’ tuitions; that funny-looking mole; delaying costly house repairs; my parents’ health; whether one of the kids has bitten of more than he/she can chew… There’s a dump truck filled with anxieties that likes to unload at the foot of my bed at 2am.
But the sun rises and not so many hours later, I am enraptured by the heady aroma of shaved black truffles in risotto, or I toast a friend’s good fortune with a lovely glass of champagne, or I bury my face in a bouquet of cream-colored roses my husband gave me just because. The stench of sweat is a faint memory and life smells sweet again.
I was fortunate enough, this year, to be given the opportunity to work with some very cool kids. These kids have no idea what a truffle is and they have never been to an orthodontist. Several have only eaten vegetables that come with take-out food—shredded lettuce in tacos, broccoli drowning in glossy neon orange “Chinese” chicken sauce. Many were foster kids—some already with foster kids of their own.
One day I asked a boy who I will call Hurricane what the best thing about his day was. He looked at me sideways and said “Why you askin’ me that?”
“I’d like to know. I want to hear”
“You nosy, you know that?” he said with a taunting little smile.
“Yup. But I am still interested”
“Okay. Best thing….” His eyes move side to side and he rubs his chin. “ I doin’ okay, you know? I’m figuring it out. I dunno. Best thing is I’m here and doing okay.” He breaks into a big grin and in a teasing voice says, “And I got you, Teacher, giving me a hard time and making me eat those—what do you call ‘em? The red ones? Sweet peppers. Those are good.”
The next week, Hurricane was slumped on a couch with a coat pulled over his head. I squatted down next to him.
“Hey. You okay?”
“No, man, I gotta headache.”
“Did you take anything?”
“How about if I get you some aspirin or Tylenol?”
“No man. I gotta headache cuz my heart hurts.”
I put my hand on his forearm. “You want to talk about it?” I am amazed and touched that this tough guy is opening up to me.
“ Nothin’ to say. The doc says I have something wrong with my heart and that’s why I get these headaches.”
Is there a life lesson here—beyond the reminder that sometimes people really do mean exactly what they say? Maybe a tiny one—or maybe it’s not so much a lesson as it is a reminder.
I can’t swoop in and ask Hurricane what, exactly, his doctor said, and does his doctor have good credentials, and did they run the appropriate tests and when does it hurt and where, and is he taking anything for it, and all the other questions I would ask if Hurricane were my boy.
I can’t fix Hurricane and I can’t save the world. If I could, I suppose I’d have to wear a bright, multi- colored spandex suit and jump from one universe to the next—or at least one roof top to the next. But I don’t look good in neon colors and my knees could never take the jumping, so I’ll have to be content with less.
The worst thing about that day was that I couldn’t help Hurricane, and the best thing about it was that I did, however fleetingly. He met a fresh vegetable he liked, and he felt the compassion of someone who cared about his day. Neither of these things makes me a world-changing hero. Nothing I did required any great sacrifice on my part, so I can’t be a saint or a martyr, either. Darn.
What I can be is this: the person who can say, most every day, the best thing about my day was the one small thing I did that gave someone a better moment.
I’m not a New Year’s resolution-making woman. I resolve all kinds of things throughout the year—some I stick with and some vaporize nano-seconds after they occur to me.
But I have a different sort of thought for my year ahead. I want to pay attention, every day, to the moment I see a person doing their one small thing. If I don’t look for it, I won’t know it’s there. But if I pay attention, I believe I will see, every single day, that one moment given by one person to another.
Coconut Pecan Meringue Kisses
These ethereal cookies deliver a kiss of nutty coconut flavor that melts in your mouth, leaving a lovely lingering sweetness.
Be sure to whip the egg whites slowly; whip them too hard or long and your meringues will collapse.
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup shelled pecans, chopped in 1/4-inch pieces
3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees with two racks in the center.
- Spread the coconut on half the cookie sheet and the pecans on the other half. (The cookie sheet should be dry, not greased). Place in the oven and toast until the coconut is lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer both to a plate to cool (they can be combined).
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or siltpats.
- Use an electric beater to whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Slowly add the sugar with the mixer running, and continue mixing until the egg whites are glossy and hold their shape. Use a spatula to fold in the toasted pecans and coconut.
- Drop well-rounded teaspoons of batter on the cookie sheets about 1-inch apart. Place in the oven for15 minutes; remove and rotate the trays and bake another 16-18 minutes, or until the cookies are dry in the center.
Makes about 40 cookies
Per cookie: 35 calories, 0 protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 1 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 mg sodium