Inordinately grateful

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said as my friend Deborah opened the passenger door of my car and ducked inside. “I meant for us to get there early this time.”

“It’s okay,” she replied clicking her seat belt. “We’ll be fine.”

The Regal Cinema at Jack London Square is less than two miles from the parking lot where I picked up my friend, but the movie we wanted to see started in 30 minutes. And we didn’t have tickets.

“I’ve been to five dollar movies where there were only ten people in the theater,” Deborah reassured as we wound through downtown Oakland. “Besides, it’s Tuesday afternoon.”

But apparently, it was a busy Tuesday, because by the time we reached the theater (just 10 minutes to showtime) a substantial line had formed outside the box office. I dropped Deborah off and went to park the car. I walked to the theater and as I headed toward Deboarh (who was sandwiched in the middle of the ever-growing line) I checked the showtimes behind the counter. Sure enough, right above the 4:15 showing of Dawn of Planet of the Apes was a small yellow sign that read SOLD OUT.

I huffed a sigh of disappointment and made my way toward my friend.

“Really?!?” she said.

I nodded.

We considered our options. We could select a different movie, but she had already seen the only alternative that caught my interest. We could opt for a later showtime, but that would mean waiting over three hours and getting out later than we’d hoped. We could nix seeing a movie altogether and go for a walk instead. Or, we could evaluate just how sold out the movie really was.

Though I have (to my great shame) sneaked into a movie before, that was not my goal. Deborah and I did purchase tickets. We just purchased them for the 7:30 showing. And then we proceeded to check out the cinema’s restrooms and found ourselves in the darkened shadows of Theater #6, which, though full, was not truly sold out.

The only seats left were in the front five rows. They weren’t ideal, but we weren’t in a position to be picky. The previews were already rolling as Deborah and I shuffled into the fifth row. I sat down beside a small dark-skinned boy plucking kernels from a mountain of yellow popcorn. Deborah was hedged in by a chatty group of teenagers who had recently been smoking. But all of that is ancillary to the fact that we were sitting in a theater, seeing a movie we didn’t think we would. I felt more privileged than entitled. Grateful that I had a seat at all.

I wonder if that initial conflict, that question of whether or not we’d make it into the film in the first place, influenced the way I viewed it and the extent to which I came to appreciate it (which was quite a bit, as you can read here).

I have a hunch that this sort of thing happens all the time:
— We expect that things will go as we planned (that the flight will take off, the job will come through, the train will be on time, our friend will forgive us),
— We realize they might not (there’s a problem with an engine, the position is eliminated, there’s a deer on the tracks, the calls go to voicemail)
— We panic (or get angry or yell or feel sick)
— The situation works out
— And then, in light of the possible failure of our original plans, we are grateful when they come through. So grateful that we are willing to overlook trivial annoyances. We sincerely thank the pilot for picking up speed in the air. We work with fervor on projects about which we’re less than thrilled. We bless the ground we stand on when we arrive at the station in time. We embrace the olive branch from the person we wronged, aware that friendship is a gift, not a right.

Such a state might be deemed as “inordinately grateful.” It is “out of the ordinary,” after all, to delight in your car starting each morning, to appreciate that your server brings you the entree that you ordered for dinner, to rejoice in the availability of a parking spot at Trade Joe’s, or to marvel at the miracle of getting through the DMV in less than three hours (I’ve recently been on both sides of this one). We expect that these things will happen. We don’t even plan for them. We certainly don’t plan for them to fail. And when they don’t (i.e., when things go as planned), we often miss the gift in all of that.

This morning I woke up and I was not sick. I opened my balcony door and it was not cold. I made a smoothie for breakfast and my blender did not break (if you could see my blender in its current state this might amaze you). I checked my phone and there had been no emergencies. I looked at my calendar and I was not overbooked. Shoot, I even had time to blog.

Gratitude (much less “inordinate” gratitude) is not my default. But it could be. Learning to view life with a new perspective is like learning to see with a new contact prescription or to walk in a new pair of shoes. Even if they are the “right” lenses, even if the shoes are “better” for your arches, they still take time to get used to, to break in.

What would it look like to find blessing in your inconvenience? To be grateful you have a car in the midst of 5 o’clock traffic or to bless the technology that allows you to call into a customer service line as they put you on hold. The more you recognize how little you deserve, the more you might notice how very much you have.