The morning had already gotten off to a rocky start. I had misplaced a book I needed. I had not had as much time as I liked with my early morning devotional time. I was close to running late for a diocesan meeting that was a 30-minute drive from home. I had not eaten breakfast, and one cup of hot tea had not given me much of a boost. Further, many of my parishioners had been affected by the government furloughs, and I was worried about their welfare.
Deciding to wait until later to find the book, I threw my briefcase in the backseat of the car, glanced at my watch and decided I would dash through the McDonald’s drive-thru. Although I rarely eat fast-food, I decided to make an exemption that morning, especially since a cup of hot, black coffee was at the top of my most-wanted list.
I ordered at the speaker, then pulled around and waited impatiently behind another car. When I got to the first window to pay for my meal, a woman appeared at the window. “Hi! How are you?” she asked in a cheerful voice. Suddenly, I found myself looking into the face of a woman with Down’s Syndrome.
In that moment, the morning began to shift. I have always loved people with Down’s Syndrome. My family used to tease me, because if I saw anything about the Special Olympics on television, they knew I would cry at the sight. I don’t know exactly why, but I have always felt like children with Down’s Syndrome were the closest glimpse we get of God in this life. One of my most cherished memories was baptizing a two-year-old with Down’s before I left a parish in Wilmington, DE. Those moments are etched indelibly in my mind. That child is etched forever in my heart.
In this moment, though, I was caught up short. I had not ever encountered a person with Down’s Syndrome at a fast-food drive-thru. “Hi! How are you?” was her question. Almost automatically, my response (hardly heart-felt) was “Fine. How are you?” She beamed. “I am wonderful!” she announced proudly. “I am wonderful!” She took my money, made change, and I drove to the next window to get my food.
But after such a proclamation, I could not be grouchy anymore. As I moved forward in the line, all I could do was smile. Jolted out of my doldrums by an enthusiastic morning greeting, I was able to wish the young man at the next window a good day and mean it. And as I headed onto the Beltway, I could not stop smiling.
These days, with a variety of worrisome things flooding our hearts and minds (people doing “honey-do” chores while waiting to go back to work, a Congress that would rather focus on partisan agendas rather than the welfare of all Americans, stewardship campaigns, family issues, etc.), believing that our lives are wonderful is a challenge. Yet a beautiful child of God, on a sunny fall morning, reminded me that sometimes the only thing we can change in our lives is our attitude. We can let negativity live “rent-free” in our heads, or we can choose to focus on the blessings God has given us. If I have a warm place to sleep at night with a roof over my head, I can be grateful. If I have eaten today, I can be grateful. If I love someone or they love me, I can be grateful. On and on. I can choose what Oprah Winfrey calls “an attitude of gratitude.” My attitude may not change others, but it can change me.
As I drove away from a fast-food restaurant last week, I realized the smallness of my worries. God is in control. God is wonderful. God’s creation is wonderful. As God’s beloved child, I am wonderful. So are you.
Sheila McJilton is the rector at St. Philip's, Laurel.