Emmanuel Terry, my Uncle Manny, is remembered by my brothers for something we heard from him whenever he came to dinner.
No matter the food he ate earlier, our gathering lacked completion until he said, “This was the best meal I had all day!” He smiled and we grinned at what became a necessary secular benediction at the evening’s conclusion.
Though we took his words as a joke, we might have better understood them as a true expression of appreciation, a thanksgiving for the feast and comradery of the moment.
Well before such festivities, Mr. Terry endured the Great Depression of the 1930s, psychiatric hospitalization, electroshock treatment, and service overseas in wartime. Late in life, he suffered the death of his wife, my Aunt Nettie. He knew loved ones and joyous reunions should not be taken for granted.
Uncle M. smiled a lot when we were together, drinking in the companionship and enjoying the laughter we all shared. And, yet, I am the inheritor of a few philosophy texts he read. Too bad I never thought to ask him what in those yellowed pages mattered to him.
Did they contribute to his gratitude?
This brings me to a friend (I’ll call him K), who is entering his 75th year on the planet, a bit longer than Manny achieved. On his birthday, the pandemic doing its worst, he wondered what he might wish for beyond the loving expressions of his children and friends.
While talking to his son-in-law a solution evolved. He planned to bestow some small benevolence on someone he didn’t know. But who, how? Close contact with people would risk lives, both his and the other.
K wasn’t deterred.
My buddy realized an acquaintance in another country might be useful in the endeavor. One owns an eatery in a city where bars and restaurants are open. He chose an establishment over 4000 miles away.
This longtime friend placed a call and asked the proprietor to serve a drink to every person in the place. His confidant would charge the tab to K.
The barkeep honored the anonymity desired by the benefactor of all the strangers. Thus the task was done.
My comrade suggested I take some similar action myself. I told him I would and, also write about his random act of kindness.
Perhaps you enjoyed a beer on my friend, but probably not. I’m guessing if he could have fed the world he would have. None of us can.
We can only do our small part.
Like Uncle Manny, K is a wise man and a grateful one.
It is no accident that these characteristics go together.
Such people make us better than we are.
The adults flanking the young man at his bar mitzvah celebration are his Uncle Manny and Aunt Nettie. The gentleman seated at the right is George Fields. Yes, I am the boy in the middle. It was the best meal we had all day.