by Elise Seyfried
“I don’t get many things right the first time/in fact, I am told that a lot/now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here/and where was I before the day/ that I first saw your lovely face? /now I see it every day/ and I know that I am…the luckiest.” — Ben Folds
If a huge old tree falls across a yard, and there is someone right inside to listen, does it make a sound?
I now have an answer to that question.
Amazingly, not that much of a sound.
I was in the kitchen cooking dinner. My daughter, Julie, was asleep on the family room sofa, taking a Friday snooze after an exhausting week in school.
The only thing I heard was nothing very remarkable. Just a rustling of leaves, a sound like the wind whipping through the branches. Then a soft thud.
When I looked out the window, I saw it. The largest tree on our property had fallen over, completely uprooted. It had fallen away from the house, and taken down another big tree and a part of our neighbor’s fence with it.
It’s a mess out there, and it’s going to be an expensive nuisance to deal with. But we are the luckiest because the sofa where Julie slept is right against a window. Right outside that window was the tree.
And had the tree fallen the other way, we might very well have lost our daughter.
Right after Christmas, my son, Sheridan, woke up in New York City in the middle of the night with severe stomach pains. He is the family stoic, who as a child used to deal with intense pain by doing pushups … Sheridan is the musical equivalent of a Navy SEAL. Needless to say, he braved it for hours and hours (and hours). Finally, during the early afternoon, he took a cab to the ER at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, where it was discovered that his appendix was about to rupture. He got there just in time.
He was also the luckiest.
I often bemoan my bad fortune. It’s been 40 years since I last won anything, and that was a cheap tote bag at the grand opening of an Atlanta drugstore. I consider every raffle ticket purchased to be an automatic donation to the cause, whatever it may be, because there’s not a chance I’ll ever see a prize of any sort. 50/50 drawings? Merely an opportunity to practice my penmanship on dollar bills, to which I then wave bye-bye. If the Publisher’s Clearing House car ever rolls up to our driveway, it will only be to check directions to the home of a lucky friend.
But these two narrowly averted calamities reminded me. I’m not, after all, the Biggest Loser. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Counting your blessings is a cliché, but it is really the only counting that truly matters. We so often become experts at counting other things — shortcomings, grievances, what we miss, what we lack. On any given day, we can all enumerate many instances and areas where others are the winners, not us. Indeed, that kind of counting can become a regular rhythm, the beat running through our lives.
Let’s face it. Unless you are Bill Gates, someone else will always be able to trump your house, your car, your investment portfolio, your vacation spot. But look around. Stop and think. Can you walk, talk, see, hear? Do you have a roof over your head and food on your table? Did you wake up this morning? Do you have someone in this world who loves you? Do you have someone in this world to love?
Then you are the luckiest.
I look out the window and see the giant, felled maple tree. Realize how we came mere inches from tragedy. Know how many families do not have the incredible luck we have had all these years? Through the disappointments, financial struggles, and just plain downturns of everyday life, we are still the fortunate ones. For today at least, we’ve won the lottery.
Tonight, my husband, Steve, and I count our Five Blessings (children), and pray for their continued safety, for their happiness. And for them to be able, every single day, to say, “I am the luckiest.”
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She can be contacted through www.eliseseyfried.com.