I’ve bean thinking about gratitude

During fall semester last year, I ate a lot of canned beans. I’d probably eat a can every other day, thrown in an uncooked corn tortilla or just plain. If I were to draw my food pyramid, it would have been roughly bean-shaped (with a small peak near the top for ramen and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, of course).  It wasn’t just that I’m a highly uncreative and clumsy cook (though these things are true)—my financial situation during that time necessitated that I eat the cheapest, most filling foods that whatever cash my tuition bill spared could buy.

As a transfer student to Calvin, I’d never lived on campus and had only been in the dining halls a handful of times before this semester. But let me tell you: at 11:30 p.m. after closing shift at work when you’re cracking open the umpteenth can of beans to eat with a fork for dinner, you begin to dream. You dream of the buffets, the hot meals, the alleged soft serve ice cream machine—but the cold uniform bite of canned black beans brings you quickly back to reality.

But dreams come true in Grand Rapids, MI! This year, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be an RA on campus, which means I have a meal plan. Every day, I stroll into Knoll and kind faces fill my Styrofoam plate to the brim with a cacophony of colorful foods. There has seldom been a day that I haven’t gotten ice cream, in all different sorts of flavors. (They just give it out there! And you can have seconds!) Every week I enjoy curry, General Tso’s tofu, and my favorite—grilled cheese and tomato soup! I can even build my own salad or enjoy some kimchi on the side. Yet, even with the gift of all this delicious food (and no more beans), there are still days where I can be so ungrateful that I find something to complain about.

We all hate to hear that the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes, it just feels good to complain. It’s a quick way to make a connection with most any person—we can gripe about the gloomy weather, or about how bland the vegetables taste, or about how annoying it is to wear masks. I don’t mean to say that no one should ever offer constructive criticism or use their voice to make change, nor that the challenges brought to campus life by the pandemic have been trivial. I only mean to call attention to how quickly our conversations fall into grumbling. There’s an unsettling comfort that comes from complaining; it’s effortless, and there’s a long list of things ready to be complained about.

Gratitude is a more difficult heart posture, but it bears fruit. I’m more joyful when I remember what vegetables would taste like if I had tried (and failed) to cook them myself, or when I strike up a conversation while waiting in line at Knollcrest or Commons that doesn’t have to do with waiting in line. It’s easier to roll with the punches that life throws when I actively call to mind all that I have to be grateful for—the (usually) blue sky, the opportunity to learn with wonderful friends and professors, the ever-present Dean’s ice cream tub waiting at the end of the food line. Even when I take a bite of lackluster refried beans, I can remember all the cans of beans that got me through tough times and be grateful for being in better ones now.

All that is just a long way to say thank you, really to everyone. I’m so grateful for all those who have been working day and night to keep us here on campus, feed us, and teach us. Thanks for scooping our ice cream, for bringing us coloring books and Oreos while we’re quarantined. Thank you for wearing a mask and making the hard choice to distance, even when it’s uncomfortable. Thanks for leading us in prayer and worship, for learning new technologies and not throwing them out the window when they don’t work. Thank you—even when the beans are bland, lines are long, and masks are maddening, there is so much to be grateful for.