The Beatles said it best.
“As long as you have your health, you have everything.” That’s what we say when we’re sick or laid up and we may believe that, but I don’t think, after a conversation I had this morning — and time to reflect on it at odd moments throughout the day — that good health is “everything.” It is important, yes, and like wealth, it’s definitely better to have it than not to have it, but neither of those two assets fills our day-to-day longings.
So what is “everything?” I had it confirmed this morning by someone who knows, and who managed to say it to me in two quick sentences as I held a door open for him.
As is my daily habit, I stopped at a nearby McDonald’s Restaurant for my first cup of coffee. I’m particular about my coffee, and so I go inside to order it (black) and then I like to stir in two creamers and two sugars and a little ice (I don’t like other people to add any of that). I’ve done the same thing since 1979. If I leave the house, I go to McDonald’s for coffee, paying for it with spare change that is almost always in exactly the correct amount ($1.68). If it’s change, it doesn’t seem like an extravagance, but rather a good use of coins.
No matter what city I’ve lived in, I’ve always gotten to know my McDonald’s morning staff, as I now do at the Broadway Avenue McDonald’s. I also visit the Milwaukee Street McDonald’s often enough to know Pat, the nice counter guy there, and I’m on a first-name basis with some of the retired guys who sit by the condiment area there weekday mornings (the ones who shout out a “Hi, Jody” while I stir my coffee). Janet, who works at the store off Dryden Drive, still remembers my name five years after I moved the IB offices to Monona. (Every so often, when I’m in the old ‘hood to drop something off at Magna, I stop in to get a coffee from her for old time’s sake.)
Because of my tendency to arrive at almost at the same minute every morning at the Broadway store, I get to meet a few of those “regulars” too — customers like me addicted to routine. I guess it’s true what my mother used to claim about me, that I never met a stranger, because other customers often approach me and tell me the darndest things, and I don’t have the common sense not to respond. It’s inevitable that I’m going to wind up in conversations with a few of them and, in fact, for the most part, I enjoy a quick exchange.
One gentleman almost broke me of that habit, however, at the Broadway store last year. He told me his name and then asked mine, acting as if he thought he knew me from somewhere, but then he confessed he didn’t — but he’d noticed that I come in a lot, and he wanted to tell me that he found me to be really attractive. That threw me a little, I confess, and I blushed and said something stupid (“Maybe you should spend your money on new prescription glasses instead of McSausage biscuits.”) Then, a few days later, he was there again when I was, and asked me where I worked, and I told him, not being quick enough mentally (hadn’t had my coffee yet) to think of a clever non-answer.
A week later, he asked me if I wanted to have an affair with him. That actually creeped me out big time.
“That’s just not going to happen,” I assured him. I would have told him I was married except wasn’t wearing a wedding ring — I’d had my ring cut off some time before that, due to a medical emergency — and I didn’t think he’d believe me. So when I got home after work, I told my husband that maybe it was time to replace the wedding ring, like maybe that very night (though I never told him why … until now (sigh)), and so we went to a jewelry store and picked out another one.
The next time I saw my wannabe beau, he said, “I’m wearing different glasses today, and I still think you’re beautiful and I still want to have an affair with you.”
In reply, I held up my hand and pointed to my new wedding ring. He then held up his hand and pointed to his own ring, shocking me yet again (no, I hadn’t looked earlier, as I had NO interest!)
“Mine actually means something to me,” I huffed, quite piqued, and he shrugged and said I couldn’t blame him for trying.
Yes, I actually did. I switched McDonald’s for awhile, and I think he got the message, as now when I see him, he just waves and doesn’t say anything, which I think is best for his long-term health.
You meet all sorts of people in McDonald’s, and learn all sorts of things about yourself as well as them — like what’s important to you. Which brings me back to my little encounter this morning.
As I was leaving McDonald’s, I held the door for an incoming elderly gentleman whom I’d seen before other mornings. “Thanks a lot,” he said, and I answered, “You’re welcome, and how are you today?”
“I’m 88 years old and I still got my health, but it doesn’t mean a thing since my wife died two years ago,” he answered. “Now it’s just two more years on this lonely earth without her.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told him, though actually he’d told me the same thing a few months back, when we had stood at the counter together. And I’d thought then, as I thought again today, about how it must be, to have outlived friends, a career, maybe even hobbies, and most important, a beloved spouse. With no one at home anymore, maybe the only people he has opportunity to talk to most days are the folks at his McDonald’s and the occasional odd bird like me who pauses to ask, “How are you?”
So there are two lessons here for me to continue pondering tonight. One is the importance of the McDonald’s lifeline for retired and/or lonely folks (or people like me who need ritual as much as a good cup of coffee).
And the other reminder is that good health is something to prize — certainly I prize mine — but it isn’t everything. Love is everything. And even though you can’t eat or drink it, maybe it’s true: All we want is good health and money, but all we need is love.
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