The Quality of Gratitude

Joanne considered her options for supper: chicken soup with garlic bread, beef vegetable casserole with fluffy white rice, or some crumbed chicken fillet filled with pepper sauce? The thirty-two-year old college lecturer rolled her eyes heavenward, struggling to decide what to eat. “Nick!” she called to her nine-year-old son watching Jurassic World: Dominion on Netflix in the bedroom they shared. “What would you like for dinner tonight, buddy?” “What are the choices, Mom?” Nick asked as he walked into their tiny but neat kitchen. Joanne and Nick were living in a one-bedroom separate entrance since her divorce three years ago. Kevin, her ex-husband, had run up such huge debts that they couldn't continue staying in the house they had been renting. Once Kevin had lost his job, his behavior had changed. He became frustrated, started drinking too much, and developed a truly tempestuous temper. It was crystal clear to Joanne that their marriage was doomed. Divorce seemed the best route for her and Nick. Kevin had disappeared out of their lives after the divorce had been finalized as if he had only been a figment of their imagination. Nick had long ago stopped to ask after his father. “Well,” Joanne said, “we've got three leftover choices,” she said, listing the three dishes. During the Christmas season, Joanne tended to cook a number of dishes which she could warm up, saving her from having to cook every night. They often had a surplus of food though, forcing Joanne to either give away whatever they hadn't eaten to street beggars, or discarding the food. “Hmm, those are really hard choices, Mom,” Nick complained. “I know, honey, but choose one, please.” “Actually, I'm not all that hungry tonight. Can't I just have some milk and cookies, please?” Nick asked pleadingly. Before Joanne could answer him though, her cell phone rang. She was surprised to see that the caller was Simon, one of the senior students she was mentoring. He was a polite nineteen-year-old of whom Joanne was quite fond. “Simon, what a nice surprise to hear from you,” Joanne said, simultaneously nodding at Nick to let him know he could have his milk and cookies. “I'm really sorry to bother you this late, Miss Harper, but I wanted to ask you for something,” Simon apologized. “Nonsense. It hasn't even gone eight yet. What can I do for you?” Joanne asked. She intuited that Simon was embarrassed about whatever it was he needed, so she waited patiently for him to formulate his request. Clearing his throat a few times, Simon finally said, “I'm in a bit of a fix tonight, Miss. I feel truly bad to turn to you for help, but I didn't know who else to ask.” Joanne remembered that Simon lived on his own in a rented room in a house shared by other students. She was also keenly aware of his financial difficulties, thus she expected him to ask her for some money or a loan. What he asked for brought her nearly to tears. “Miss, do you have some food for me, please? I'm really hungry tonight. The only thing I've had all day was a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea this morning. If you don't have anything, it's fine. I'm very sorry to bother you, Miss.” Unbidden, an image of her stocked fridge and the dinner options she and Nick were deciding on swam into her consciousness. A well of deep shame opened up in the kind woman's heart; her motherly instinct to nurture set her soul ablaze with contrition for having taken for granted that others had three meals a day as she did. “Say no more, Simon. Please, come over right now. I have more than enough food. Have supper with me and my son and I'll pack some leftovers for you to take home as well,” she immediately said. There was a long silence on the other end of the line, making Joanne wonder if Simon had ended the call. “Simon, are you still there?” she asked just as she heard soft sobs coming over the line. Her heart broke anew; she realized that Simon was weeping. “Miss, you have no idea how much this means to me. I can't thank you enough, Mom,” Simon said, not realizing he had referred to Joanne as ‘Mom'. Simon's slip of the tongue stunned Joanne. Heroically, she collected her scattered thoughts, stilling her heaving heart. “I should be the one thanking you, Simon,” she said, her soul drenched in pure gratitude. Image: Marcos Paulo Prado (

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