Beverly Beckham

The most important reminder

By Beverly Beckham
November 1, 2009

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It was a perfect October day, crisp and clear, the sky blue, the trees orange and bronze and red, the kind of day that made you forget for a while not only your personal problems but the infinitely bigger troubles of the world.

That’s how fine it was. That’s how divine.

Nothing seemed a burden. Not the traffic. Not the long line at the post office. Not a growing to-do list. Not even grocery shopping.

“Isn’t this the most beautiful day ever?’’ I said to an older gentleman who was checking me out of Costco, making sure that the number of items in my cart matched the number of items on my sales slip. You could see the golden day from where we stood. You could smell the fresh fall air.

This man looked up from his counting and out at the world, then back at me and he smiled. And then he said gently but firmly, “Every day’s a beautiful day. Every day we’re given. Rain or shine. If you wake up in the morning. If you can get out of bed? It’s a good day.’’

His words aren’t revelatory. We’ve all heard them and others like them: “Count your blessings,’’ “Be thankful for what you have.’’ But he said them with such conviction that they stuck with me, that I came home and told my family the story. And when it rained a few days later, a cold, ugly, steady downpour, I thought again about what this man had said and looked beyond the rain and watched the golden leaves fall.

He could have complained about having to work on a beautiful day. “It’ll be dark by the time I get out of here.’’ He could have said, “Yah. It’s great today but tomorrow it’s supposed to turn cold.’’ He could have said, “Too bad it won’t last.’’ He could have said nothing.

But he used the moment to make a point not to teach me something, but to remind of things I know for a while but always, always forget.

I knew them well when my friend Sal was alive. He had ALS and lived in a hospital bed for the last 10 years of his life. He could smile and he could raise and lower his eyes. But that was it. He couldn’t walk or talk or eat or hug his kids. He communicated - when someone was around who could work his machine - by using his eyes to spell out words on a small computer screen. It was hard and it was painstaking. He focused on one letter at a time and averaged two words a minute.

For years, until he was moved to a different room, there was a tree outside his window. “Open curtain,’’ he would spell, until we knew just by his glance what he wanted. He measured time by that tree; he counted the seasons, watched snow fall, birds nest, buds bloom. And fall after fall, dying leaves turn to gold.

I seldom complained about errands or lines or traffic or snow or rain all the years I visited Sal because I knew that he would love to be me, stuck in traffic, in his own car, the window open, drinking a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, wiping the fog off the window, switching radio stations, singing along to a song.

I used to notice, too, and marvel at how people walked and talked without any thought. They just did it, millions of people, billions of people all over the world. They did it. I did it.

But Sal couldn’t.

It’s raining as I write this. It’s gray and gloomy and the space heater hums beside me, and I am thinking about November days, how quickly they shrink and how the nights grow longer and how soon there will be snow and ice and how easy it is to slip into the mindset that winter is something to be endured, not celebrated and enjoyed.

“Every day is a beautiful day. Every day we’re given,’’ a stranger reminded me.

So for the moment, I know this.

But I know, too, that despite my best intentions, on some overcast day, I will forget again.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at