Some of you may think by my title choice that I am talking about money; I’m not. If you read on, you will see that this article is about having an attitude of gratitude.
During the height of Desert Storm, while stationed at Riyadh Air Base, Saudi Arabia, I was living in Tent City, sleeping on an uncomfortable cot and showering in a communal construction erected by the structural specialists.
With the temperature in triple digits throughout the day and jets constantly taking off with afterburner blasting, it was a fairly miserable experience. Walking outside was like walking into a dry sauna set to maximum heat. The cilia in my nostrils would singe with every breath I took. If there was a breeze, it felt like a blowtorch searing at my skin. Dry sand would find its way into every sweaty crevice leaving me in need of a shower multiple times per day.
There were upsides of course. I was serving with my brothers and sisters in uniform as we defended our country and way of life. In the evenings, we would often gather in a tent and play cards or talk about our families back home. I remember it fondly, but it was not an easy time.
Something one of my brothers-in-arms said to me during that tour of duty has stuck with me for more than thirty years. It was a simple statement, but far more profound than he ever knew.
In the mornings, we would gather at the mess hall for breakfast. One of the many benefits of being in the military is that the food is cheap. For just a dollar or two, you could have eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and pancakes cooked to order or choose items from a huge breakfast buffet.
One day, while the two of us were sitting together at a table, I noticed a big smile on his face that seemed entirely out of place. No one had said anything funny and he wasn’t directing his joyful expression at me.
Curious, I had to ask.
“What are you so happy about this morning?” I inquired.
“Oh, me? I’m just thankful for my bacon,” he said as if that would make perfect sense.
Perhaps this won’t move you in the way that it moved me, but I am teary-eyed just thinking about it.
I asked him to elaborate and the explanation he gave changed the way I look at life. He went on to tell me that in his childhood, his family couldn’t afford bacon. At best, he would get fried eggs and toast. On special occasions, he might get some butter and jam.
Every single morning as an Airman having breakfast in the mess hall, he gave thanks for his bacon.
Remember, this is a young man serving his country in a foreign land. The heat was unbearable. Whenever a SCUD missile was incoming, we would have to put on our heavy MOP gear making it even worse. Patriot missiles would launch to take them out above our heads and we never knew if chemical or biological fallout would rain down. In short, it wasn’t an easy time to maintain a positive attitude, but my friend was thankful for his bacon.
I will never forget him or the education he gave me. The next time you’re complaining about traffic or frustrated that your steak wasn’t cooked quite right, remember his example. There is always something to be thankful for if we stop and think.
M. J. Ryan wrote an outstanding book on the concept. If you haven’t read Attitudes of Gratitude: How to Give and Receive Joy Every Day of Your Life, read it now!
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