Before my granddaughter, Anna, turned five in July, she dictated a three-page list of desirable gifts to her faithful secretary/mother. The list included “more baby food for Leo,” her nineteen pound, six month old brother, who seems to be doing well in the food category, and “any kind of Lego set, but I would like the most is girl Lego’s,” and “a little statue, any kind of statue,” and “a beach ball” and “a big kite” and “more money, not pretend money, real money,” and “a timer,” and “fancy, fancy, fancy, fancy shoes, tennis shoes.” She added the helpful hint that everything she desires can be found at the Platte Avenue Wal-Mart, a store for which she and her older brother long as sick pilgrims long for the healing waters of Lourdes.
It was a stream of consciousness list, in which a “new” notebook soon morphs into a “pretty notebook,” and “a big notebook, with lots of pages,” and somehow becomes “a computer.” (Actually, as a woman who recently bought a car, I know exactly how that happens.) But my daughter/Anna’s mother edited only the title. She changed it from “birthday list” to “hope list.”
My “hope list” and my “daily bread,” like the Platte Avenue Wal-Mart and the waters of Lourdes, are oceans apart.
My daughter told Anna that it is both fine and fun to dream about toys and princess blankets and fancy gloves like those worn by Fanny Nancy, Anna’s current favorite literary character. What is not fine, she said, is to demand, or to expect, any of the gifts on the list. People are free to bring any gift at all, she told Anna, including a drawing or a note or the simple gift of coming to her party and having a good time.
Which is where my mother comes in. Mother’s birthday is after a month after Anna’s. They share summer birthdays, but not birth centuries. My mother was born in 1918; Anna in 2005.
Mother no longer shops, but she does collect trinkets and candy and various interesting boxes and perfume samples and face creams from her house to give the great-grandchildren. Last year, Anna received a wrinkle-reducing night cream and an opened tube of hemorrhoid gel.
Anna’s gift this year was just such a collection of treasures, a gently used lipstick and a nearly new bottle of polish and a purse and an old pillbox, which my mother thought was, and we all assumed to be, empty.
Shortly after the party, Anna dictated a thank you note to my mother (which she signed herself, the towering printed A’s and N’s like mountain peaks about to tumble.) The note is another list, this one of each item in the gift box, each given its own separate “thank you.” The note concludes, “And thank you for the pillbox. And thank you for the pill.”
The reading on the Sunday following Anna’s birthday was from Luke. Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray. He tells them to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
I have always understood my daily bread to be what I need for the day. I believe God knows what I need. I believe God provides what I need. That doesn’t mean I’m glad or grateful, just resigned.
Often what I need and what I want are such very different things. And I rail when I want is denied. My “hope list” and my “daily bread,” like the Platte Avenue Wal-Mart and the waters of Lourdes, are oceans apart.
But, sitting in the pew that Sunday, I had Anna’s note in my mind and on my heart, “Thank you for the pillbox. And thank you for the pill.” As I listened to the reading, I knew. I knew that Jesus bids me not merely tolerate God’s gift of daily bread — which somehow involves being a fifty eight year old woman who still has to find a babysitter before she can go out for an evening — but give thanks for it. When toleration is turned into gratitude, then forbearance becomes joy.
If God our Father is holy — the One whose very name is hallowed — then all God’s works and gifts are holy and worthy to be praised. Even the gift of the pillbox. And the pill.
Anna’s mother confiscated the pill before I had a chance to examine it. Was it the Namenda for fading memory or the Levoxyl for a weakening thyroid or the Digoxin and Lasix for a failing heart? These pills are part of my mother’s daily bread. I am part of her daily bread, and she is part of mine. I think I am as mystified by this as, no doubt, Anna was when she opened her gift. Neither pillbox nor pill were anywhere among the thirty one items on the “hope list.”
Still, Anna received every package she opened as gift. Still, Anna said “thank you,” and I am trying to do the same.
– Melissa Musick