This week, I got humbled.
A few days ago, I ran an errand on my way to the office, so I went a different route than I normally would. Heading up 27th meant I had to cross the railroad tracks, and of course, a long train was rumbling through as I pulled into the long line of waiting cars.
As I sat there waiting, I tapped my steering wheel and looked all around me to gauge whether I should peel off and take another route. It has to be nearing the end, I thought; so I stayed in my northbound lane and grew increasingly more antsy and impatient. Increasingly more negative.
I make my own schedule and work for family, so it’s not like I had a boss waiting to scold me for arriving to work late, but I was still stressed out about running behind schedule.
Finally after what felt like an eternity, the tracks cleared, and after two rounds of stoplights, I got to the other side of the tracks. Held up at yet another red light, I felt like pulling my hair out–that is, until I got humbled.
I noticed a tall, lanky, nice-looking man waiting at the crosswalk, carrying a grocery sack. As he started to walk across the street, right in front of me, it was like he let me look right into his soul. He looked kind but troubled, somehow. His hair was long and looked like it hadn’t been washed in days, and his clothes most likely hadn’t been either. He was dressed nicely though, and I got the feeling that he was a genuinely good person.
As he walked right past my windshield, I saw that his plastic grocery sack held a loaf of bread, and sticking out of his jacket pocket was a half pint of milk.
The milk is what got to me.
The milk is what caused hot tears to immediately fill my eyes as that light turned green.
I pulled away from that stoplight, in my nice warm Tahoe with its heated seats, thinking back to my blessed morning in my warm, cozy house.
As I had raced around the kitchen that morning getting a lunch packed for my toddler, I’d mistakenly poured fresh milk into his sippy cup from the night before that was still in the fridge. As his daddy walked into the kitchen with the correct cup, I poured the “old” cup of milk down the sink, threw the sippy in the dishwasher, and topped off today’s cup from our brand new gallon jug of whole milk.
I wanted my son to have a fresh sippy cup of milk.
I also knew there were two more full gallons in the garage.
In our extra fridge.
Now, I don’t know how far that man had walked that cold morning to get that bread and that milk, but he certainly had to work a whole hell of a lot harder to get to his half pint of milk that day than anyone in my family did.
Our cup–literally–runneth over. My blessings and my privilege smacked me right in the face, as I sat there watching that man walking back to who-knows-where with his bread and his milk.
And then it clicked.
I was supposed to go that way to work, and get stuck behind that train, so that I could see that humble man and his half pint of milk. So that I could see that what mattered was not being perfectly on time for my perfectly planned day.
What mattered was that I had a job to go to, in my nice warm car, and a nice warm house to go home to afterwards. What mattered was the privilege of having my healthy family’s company to enjoy when I got home.
What mattered was that I had the luxury of a hot shower this morning.
What mattered was that we almost always have a two gallon box of milk in our garage fridge, because we can.
All of these blessings made me cry big tears, of overwhelming gratitude. I couldn’t stop thinking of my Hank, his amazing daddy, and his sweet big brothers. My biggest blessings.
I cried because I had wasted perfectly good milk, that a hungry man would have walked across blocks of traffic for, and I didn’t even give it a second thought.
Well, I did give it a second thought, all the rest of the way to work. And as soon as my hubby got home, I gave it a third thought when I told him how a half pint of milk in a man’s pocket on a cold morning had humbled me.
We gave it another thought when he and I decided that evening to donate $100 to our local “Flakesgiving” fund, so four families could have Turkey dinners on Thanksgiving, who might not have been able to otherwise.
I gave it another thought waiting in the drive-thru Starbucks line the next day, while running errands with my mom. As we sat there being humbled, yet again by that man and his milk, we decided to buy the coffees for the carload behind us. I hope they did the same for the car behind them.
And still, I haven’t stopped thinking about that man and his milk.
I haven’t wasted a sippy cup of milk, since; either.
I am grateful for that man and my lesson. And I am also grateful for the mantra I have been saying over and over in my head ever since that humbling; a few lines borrowed from one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert:
Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friends, family, and readers far and wide. Maybe my lesson can be a lesson to you, too.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.