This is the time of year that we focus on gifts. I can think of no greater gift than one in particular. Life. Life is a gift. That is a truth universally accepted. It is a truth universally felt. It is the truth behind humanity’s drive to protect life, to preserve life. But is it always a gift? What about our mistakes? What about other people’s choices that spread collateral pain into our lives? What about accidents? What about the stuff we have to just do that we hate? They are all a part of life, so are these things gifts as well? And, if so, must we be thankful for them as well? Let me tell you a story.
At the ripe old age of 10 (maybe 11) my family acquired a paper route. It was officially my mother’s job, but the family did the route together. All except for my dad because he was already working. My father was a patrolmen who had seven children and a wife for whom he was responsible to provide life’s necessities. That’s a big job on a tiny salary. (Wait, don’t tell me you didn’t know that cops don’t make millions?!) Anyway. I cannot remember a time in my childhood when my dad didn’t have more than one job. Still, the paper route was needed to help. None of us really questioned it. It was just part of what we needed to do as a family. Let me be clear here. While none of us really questioned it, we certainly hated it. Mostly me.
Nobody hated that paper route more than I did. Nobody. I have always hated mornings. Always. I like to sleep, and I can’t believe that not everyone does! Anyway, we had to get up at unholy hours. We’re talking the hours that start with “F“. They start with “F” for a reason…if you catch my meaning…because they are “F” words. 😉 I don’t know that I ever joyfully rose from bed at F o’clock in the morning. Not once. Usually my family had to go to drastic measures to get me up. Still, eventually we were all up and dressed in our junkiest nastiest clothes to head to the paper office. You have to wear ugly clothes on a paper route. It’s required…I think…
Why go to the office? Why didn’t they deliver our papers like most people? This wasn’t your little brother’s paper route. This route delivered two separate papers, and there were literally hundreds of them. Hundreds and hundreds. No lie. Over 400…not counting Sunday Only’s. (That’s newspaper talk. If you don’t get it…I feel sad for you. 😉 ) This was the sort of route where you drove to the paper office at F o’clock, checked for changes, readied your table (everyone had a table to roll papers), counted your papers out, pulled out the rubber bands and started rolling. It was a cement building (possibly cinder blocks??) with cement floors and waist high “tables” up against the walls. It was basically a big garage…with one teeny tiny heated office. So my mom would roll up in the ol’ Suburban (we used to call it the Clunker Junker), and six kids would pile out. One was carried because he was still a baby. To the tables we would dash and begin our frenzied rolling. My mother had us rolling those papers faster than anyone. We would all compete against each other to see who could roll the paper fastest. She always beat us. But we were so fast! She timed us, and we would always try to beat our record for finishing all the rolling. Sundays and Wednesdays didn’t count because there were always more and bigger papers on those days.
After rolling, we’d load the papers keeping the Casper Star separate from the Denver Post. The older kids would slip on the paper carrying bags, and we’d head out. In the middle of the F o’clock night. Usually in the freezing cold (because does Wyoming even have a concept of warm nights?!). Here’s the deal. My mom had a system. She was always (and still is) seeing ways to improve the way something is done. When she got the route she was told it would take hours to complete. Ha. HA! She looked at that thing (I remember watching her do it) and charted out a new system. She would drop us off at the bottom of a street, and we had to run up the street delivering the correct papers to the appropriate houses. Then she would pick us up at the top of the street, we’d load up our bags again, and then we’d start the process over on a new street. While we were running, she was delivering papers on streets she could do from the driver’s seat or having the little ones jump out and deliver them. It was a highly functional system. As per her usual motivation, we would frequently try to break our record for finishing the whole route. If we did, she bought us donuts when it was done. Fresh ones. Goooooood ones.
Anyway. I hated the paper route. I loathed it. Who in their right mind wants to wake up at F o’clock and run their guts out?! All right, maybe some freaky adults, but no child I know does! Plus…WE HAD TO DO IT IN THE WINTER! EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF SNOWSTORMS! And rain. We were like the post office…but much more reliable. 😉 I wanted nothing more than to not do that stupid route. I hated the fact that I had to scrub my hands hard to get not only the black ink stains but also the ink smell off of my skin. I detested being cold. I despised it when a rubber band broke while I was rolling papers and snapped my icy fingers. (Try it sometime. It F o’clock hurts!) Nobody was a bigger grouch than me. Sullen. That’s what I was…sullen…even though I knew why we needed it.
Along came junior high. Sports. Athletics. Phys Ed class. And I still abhorred the paper route. But guess what? I could run. I could run, and run, and run, and run. When many of the other kids were winded, my sisters and I could keep running. And we were strong. Naturally I didn’t really notice any of this at the time. But once we quit the route, I noticed. After a couple of years I saw the difference the paper route had made in our lives.
Listen, it sucked. I will never ever say that it didn’t. I just can’t do that. HOWEVER! It was also a blessing. The extra income it provided my family was much needed. The family working together? It’s only since I have become a mother that I really understand what a blessing that was to have us all working together to achieve the same goal. The amazing health benefits (physical and mental) it provided to each of us by exercising us every day were off the charts. And I will even go so far as to say that getting up so early was a blessing…because it taught me how much I hate it. 🙂
Truly, that paper route was a giant dose of crappy medicine in my young life. But it was still medicine. It was only by taking it that I was able to get the benefits. Life just is not all about the candy moments or the chocolate moments. We aren’t meant to be thankful just for those. Everything, everything, that comes into our life is something for which we should be thankful. It is all a gift. Not just the sweet bits. The parts that we have to choke down? They’re a gift. The parts that leave us in pieces? Still a gift. The parts that we try to hide away? Still a gift.
Rotten things continue to come into my life. Sometimes they come more frequently than others, but they come. I am no exception to the rule. Not one life is made up of exclusively shining moments, the moments of blissful happiness. It’s not just the moments of butterflies in your stomach that give life meaning, that make it the gift it is. Our faults, mistakes, weaknesses, poor choices, trials, hurts…They have meaning and purpose. They are a part of the gift. What matters is how we receive them. This life that we cherish needs all of it. Thus, all of it should be cherished. My whole life, your whole life…it’s a gift.
Take It, and Be Thankful