I had a realization the other day. And, like many realizations, mine started in an unexpected place. Specifically, 7-Eleven.
I was waiting in line, absentmindedly staring at the tabloids, when the man in front of me pulled a handful of change out of his pocket and dumped it out on the counter.
“Hey,” The man pushed grimy silver coins toward the cashier. Beneath the glass counter-top, a rainbow collection of scratch-and-win tickets were piled along neat lines.
The man stopped counting. His fingers hovering over the coins. “I think I’m a little short…”
He was trying to buy a coffee. Steam curled out of the black lid as it sat on the counter, waiting.
The cashier swallowed, blinked, frowned.
“Yeah,” The man nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I’m fifteen cents short, man. Sorry…is that okay?”
“Fifteen cents,” The cashier drawled. He held his hand above the glass counter-top, the lottery tickets. Palm outstretched.
The man’s shoulders slumped. He tucked his chin toward his chest, digging his hands further into his pockets. I could see his knuckles through the fabric.
The line curved behind me, crawling into the aisle. Everyone watching and listening.
“Um…” I cleared my throat. “Uh–I can cover it.”
The man and the cashier both looked at me. One smiling, the other not.
“Really?” The man asked.
I nodded, my cheeks hot.
“Thanks,” He said. “I appreciate it.”
Then, he grabbed his coffee off of the counter and grinned. One tooth missing. “I hope God gives you a gift, today.”
I laughed in a I-wish-this-interaction-was-over-so-people-would-stop-staring-at-me kind of way, and then he was gone.
I paid (“Plus fifteen cents,” The cashier growled as he read out my bill), and I walked home. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the man had said.
You see, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted my gift to be.
All day, I had been experiencing an extreme case of Baby Rhino On An Impaling Rampage In My Large Intestine Syndrome (A.K.A. a lot of pain), and when that man told me that God might give me a gift, my immediate thought was: “I would like the gift of Feeling Better” (as if the man was some kind of wish-granting-coffee-fairy).
And throughout the day, every time I felt a twinge or an ache, I would frown, clench my fists, and demand my gift.
Until, during one such moment, a realization dropped out of the sky and landed on my head.
I was staring at the crack at the bottom of the train doors, watching the light of the tunnel flicker across the floor. Yellow, yellow, green. My hand was wrapped around the pole, my knuckles white. Pain rocketing through my right side.
Where’s my freaking gift!? I shifted from one foot to the other. Frowning. I did an especially good deed today, and I don’t deserve this.
Yellow, yellow, green.
Anyone up there? I’m waaaaaaaiting.
Then. Another voice. My own, but more calm, quiet, answered, “Just because you didn’t get the gift that you were looking for, doesn’t mean that you didn’t get a gift.”
I stopped shifting, my fingers loosened on the pole. I watched the light on the floor turn green and then yellow again.
I said: Just because you didn’t get the gift that you were looking for, doesn’t mean that you didn’t get a gift.
I became aware of my breathing, the screeching of the train on the tracks, murmured conversations, the pulsing pain in my right side.
This felt like an Important Thought. One to hold on to.
I thought about Christmas morning. Ripped paper and ribbons crushed under knees. Tears on red cheeks because that one special thing was missing from the stack of presents piled high under the tree.
And I thought about how watching the light flicker between the doors of the train felt like a secret. And how I was standing still and moving at the same time, hurtling underground with fifty other people. And how, earlier, I’d watched a flock of birds fly across the sky. Slipping over the clouds like black pearls on a collarbone.
And I realized that I’d already been given my gift. It had been waiting for me all along. Waiting to be noticed.
I smiled. The train stopped and started. People moved around me. Bumping elbows and quiet breathing. And I watched the crack between the train doors. The light, flickering: yellow, yellow, green.