I was in a bad mood Saturday evening.
I was cold, tired and wet . . . really wet. Myself and 90,000 others had just endured a monsoon at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville to watch Tennessee get demolished by LSU. There was still a light rain falling as we slogged out of the stadium. My shoes squished every step of the way on the mile-long walk back to the car. I didn’t have a dry stitch of clothing on my body.
I’m not one of those football fans who lets a loss ruin his weekend. At the end of the day, it’s just a game, after all. But after seven losses in one season, I was unusually grumpy. I was tired of Butch Jones, even though he was no longer Tennessee’s head coach. I was tired of Grumors (the rumors that Jon Gruden is going to be the Vols’ next coach). I was tired of jubilant LSU fans who think “go” should be spelled “geaux.”
After exiting for the golden arches and a late-night McSnack on the way home, a truck bowed up and stopped in front of me. I laid on the horn for 10 seconds, and snarled at him for not using the turn lane like the good Lord intended.
The irony of it all was that Thanksgiving was less than a week away. Just as our goodwill toward men seems to be limited to one day of the year, so does our thanksgiving. But especially on this holiday, it would do all of us good to take stock of our lives.
My first-world problems Saturday night were hardly earth-shattering. But I was so irritated because my football team lost and I had gotten wet to watch them lose that I needed to be reminded of just how good I had it — wet underwear or no wet underwear.
For starters, if the outcome of a football game is the worst of my worries on any particular night, I’ve got it made. And at least I had tickets to go to the football game, reliable transportation to get me there, and the ability to walk a mile to get to the stadium once the car is parked. And God may not have given me the sense to get in out of the rain, but at least he gave us rain. About this time a year ago, a lot of people in Sevier County would’ve given just about anything for rain, as they lost it all in raging wildfires that were spurred by a lack of it.
I wasn’t thinking about any of that as I wheeled into McDonald’s, still fuming over the moron who stopped in front of me, and nearly ran over a guy lumbering across the parking lot with a blanket draped around his shoulders.
As I wheeled into an empty space, I glanced in the rearview mirror to discover that the man had more than just a blanket — left soggy by the passing rain — on his back. He also had every possession he owned on his back. He was homeless. Wet and homeless. Temperatures were expected to drop rapidly overnight, and there wasn’t a shelter for miles around.
I’m pretty sure that man couldn’t have cared less that LSU had beaten Tennessee by three touchdowns. He was more worried about where he was going to spend the night, while I was headed home to my dry, climate-controlled house. I knew where my next meal was coming from; I’m not sure he did. And he certainly wasn’t worried about rude drivers on the highway; he didn’t have a vehicle to get about in.
After we had ordered our food, my wife handed him the last cash we had on our person — a soggy $10 bill. A few hours earlier I had spent that much on a single over-priced hot dog and diet soda at the game. He could use it to buy enough food at McDonald’s to last him a day. Or two.
You and I are alike, you know. We have much to be thankful for, even if we take it for granted and don’t often slow down enough to appreciate it. Sure, we all have varying degrees of worry — a late mortgage payment, insecurity at work, a car that threatens to roll over and die at any time without enough money in the bank to make the payment on a new one, health troubles, and the list goes on. But I would wager that every single one of us can find someone who’s worse off than we are.
Troubles? There are our troubles, and then there are real troubles. You don’t have to travel abroad to a third-world country to find them, either. If you need to be reminded of that, jump in the car and take a drive by Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries on Broadway in downtown Knoxville.