44: 86,400 Seconds

44: 86,400 Seconds

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

86,400 Seconds

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

~Cynthia Ozick

“Cars,” my not-quite-two-year-old son Nathan said, pointing at the hanging display of Matchbox cars at our local grocery store. He smiled sweetly and said it again.

“Yes, I see those cars,” I said.

But Nathan shook his head. “Need cars,” he said.

“You already have lots of cars at home,” I said.

Nathan shook his head again and said — quite loudly this time — “Mommy, cars!”

I glanced around the store and noticed a few people looking our way. But before I could even feel embarrassed, Nathan hollered again, “Need cars!”

“Nathan, we’re not going to buy a car today,” I said in my most soothing voice, “but you can play with your other cars as soon as we get home.”

Nathan nodded and seemed to calm down. Satisfied that he’d understood me, I turned around to grab some chocolate chips. In that instant, Nathan decided to help himself to a car or two. He reached out to grab the coveted toys, but the plastic hanger they were on caught on a bag of sugar. Nathan kept pulling and ended up knocking three bags of sugar off the shelf. They fell to the floor where they — of course — broke open, dumping sugar everywhere.

“Uh oh,” Nathan yelled. “Mess, Mommy! Mess!”

I think half of our town was at the grocery store that day and all of them were in the baking aisle, staring at me and the mess my son had made. A bag boy came over, saw the mess, muttered an expletive, and called for a “cleanup on aisle ten.” It was beyond embarrassing. All I needed now was for an old boyfriend to appear and want to “catch up.” That didn’t happen — thank goodness — but the entire fiasco was bad enough.

When we arrived home from the grocery store — which I will not be going back to until after Nathan goes away to college — I put away the few groceries I managed to get before the sugar incident. I laid Nathan down for a nap, praying he would sleep for a long time.

Then I sat down on the couch and cried. I’m not sure why. I just did.

But just moments into my pity party, the phone rang. I sighed and muttered, “Why can’t everyone just leave me alone?” I grabbed the phone and barked a hello.

“Um, Diane? It’s Margaret from church. I’m calling because you’re on the prayer chain.”

Uh oh. Mid-week prayer chain calls always meant an accident or other emergency.

“What happened?” I said.

“Matthew passed away this morning,” she said. Matthew’s family attended our church. He was five and he’d been battling leukemia since before his second birthday. We’d all known he didn’t have much longer, but still, the news hit me hard.

Margaret gave me the funeral arrangements as I choked down more tears.

When we finally hung up, I returned to my spot on the couch, crying once again. I cried for Matthew’s parents. They were more acquaintances than friends, but my heart broke for them all the same.

My tears were sad, but they were also guilty. Guilty that just moments before, I’d thought I had problems. I’d been in a rotten mood because my son — my healthy, wonderful son — had embarrassed me at the grocery store. It was nothing compared to what Matthew’s mother had been through.

In fact, she’d probably give anything to go through that experience, just to have her little boy back.

The funeral was heart wrenching. It was only the second time I’d attended one for a child and it hadn’t gotten any easier. I was crying before we even entered the church. One of the pallbearers handed me a program. I glanced down and read Matthew’s name, along with a quote by William Ward. It said: “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you’?”

Matthew’s parents had chosen that quote because of Matthew’s love of life and gratitude for every day he was here, no matter what that day brought.

I thought about my own life and how often I found myself in a bad mood over something relatively minor. I realized how little gratitude I felt for the many blessings in my life. All of my children are healthy, but I hadn’t thought much about that. Instead, all too often, I focused on the small, but daily, frustrations of having young children. The messes, the temper tantrums, the noise. Never getting to hold the remote.

But when I think about Matthew and his family, none of that stuff matters. My kids are a blessing and I’m lucky to have them. No matter what.

So today, instead of becoming annoyed at them for leaving toys on the floor and arguing over the last fudge pop, I’m going to spend some of my 86,400 seconds being grateful for them.

And I’m going to spend even more of that time enjoying them.

~Diane Stark

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