The men’s breakfast. I am here with twelve unsupervised elderly men. Baptist men who all tuck their shirts into pressed slacks.
Baptist men always wear tucked-in shirts with pressed slacks. Even when they go swimming.
I give Baptists a hard time because I descend from them. But they are magnificent people, with kind hearts, tender spirits, and they know all the words to the fourth verse of “Amazing Grace.”
I’m here today because Larry invited me.
“This is Sean,” Larry announces to the group.
Many of these men are hard of hearing. One man calls me “Shane” when he shakes my hand—which is a common mistake. Another man calls me “John”—also a common mistake. And one man with two hearing aids pumps my hand and says, “Thanks for coming today, Dominick.”
A waitress takes our orders. One man orders fruit and oatmeal. Another orders pancakes. The man next to me, Ron, orders a double meat breakfast with extra bacon and cheese grits.
“My wife has me on a diet,” Ron explains.
I order eggs over medium, toast, and coffee.
When food arrives, no man touches his plate. Larry, rises to his feet and asks for prayer requests.
One man asks for prayer regarding kidney stones.
Men offer their condolences.
Another man asks, “Would y’all remember my son, today? He’s gonna be starting a new job, he deserves to be happy. We love him so much.”
And one old man removes his ball cap. The man has a gentle smile. He glances at his lap and says, “Please pray for my dog, he’s finally old enough for us to tell him he’s adopted.”
A mushroom cloud of laughs.
You have to love Baptists.
Another man speaks up: “I don’t have anything to pray for. I’m just filled to the brim with thanks.”
“Pray for my granddaughter’s tonsil surgery.”
“And for my daughter, she’s going through a rough time with her ex.”
“Pray for a kid on my street, he just lost his mother.”
“My wife’s starting radiation this week.”
Around the table it goes. Man after man. And the wheel lands on me. In this moment, I am replaying my life.
My triumphs—the time I ate two watermelons at the fairgrounds. My failures—the time I wet my pants in an Atlanta traffic jam then got pulled over by a highway patrolman ten minutes later.
My family—the people who muscled me through some very hard times.
My wife—the woman who explained to the highway patrolman that I had drank too much coffee.
And I remembered the day I stood at the altar beside that woman. She was wearing a long white dress. And I remembered after the ceremony, when I announced to a reception hall that I was the luckiest man in the world. I still am.
“I’m just thankful,” I say.
I receive a round of hearty agreement. Pats on the back. Winks. And in this room, we are all people with similar lives. We are humans, who love breakfast.
When the requests are done, I expect Larry to offer a prayer much like the prayers of my youth. The people I come from offered lengthy incantations before meals that lasted about the length of a 1989 World Series.
By the end of those childhood prayers, Sister Andress would have locked knees, Bill Donahue would have the shakes, and three men would’ve suffered severe diabetic comas.
Larry’s prayer is nothing like that.
He bows his head. Twelve men bow. I bow. And he says nothing. Not even a word.
The music in the restaurant is still playing overhead. Don Williams is singing about Amanda. People are eating. Clinking plates.
But these twelve Baptists are silent. Eyes closed. Easy smiles. These men are my ancestors. For better or worse.
Feelings rise in me. I realize that I am not quite a Baptist anymore. In fact, I don’t even know what I am. I’m everything, I suppose. And right now, all I know is that I am thankful.
For the beautiful things that await me back home. For things I will see when I pull in my driveway. My wife will be wearing exercise clothes, because it’s morning—she rides her bike in the mornings. My two dogs will run toward me, making serious attempts to give me a concussion.
There will be barking. There will be excitement. There will be warmth. I will see my mansion on wheels, poised within the longleaf pines of the Choctawhatchee Bay.
And, Lord-willing, I will spend today taking apart an old fishing reel, and putting it back together. My dogs will wrestle. My wife will make cornbread.
I am just grateful to be alive so that I can see it all. I am grateful for these hot eggs, this coffee. This life. And for sturdy old men in slacks.
But most of all, I give thanks that my name is not Shane, John, or Dominick.