I remember stories about McDonalds when I was in high school. Some of our school mates whose parents had significant means would travel to London for the summer break and return to tell stories about McDonalds. Those stories were so tantalizingly inviting that you could feel that sizzling burger or fries melting on your tongue. Oh how I yearned for a bite of that burger from McDonalds! Mind you, I didn’t even know what a burger was, nor had I ever seen one.
This past week I read a story about Cristiano Ronaldo. He is an exceptional football (soccer) star who plays for Juventus in Italy. He’s played for Manchester United in England, and Real Madrid in Spain. He’s won several trophies and awards, including the best footballer in the world. His talents are incredible. And he’s made lots and lots of money playing soccer. But you wouldn’t believe his story till he shared it with the world. In fact, not many people knew about this part of his story.
He was interviewed by Piers Morgan, and in that interview he talked about his mission to find a woman, Edna, and two other women who were employees at a McDonalds which used to sit next to a stadium in Lisbon, Portugal. These ladies used to give burgers to him and other boys when they were younger. He explained it like this: “We were a little hungry. We had a McDonalds next to the stadium. We knocked on the door and asked, ‘Have you got any burgers?’” Edna and the two ladies would then give Cristiano and the other boys some burgers. As successful as he now is, you would never ever think he came from poverty.
This story is rich, and there are multiple layers which invite our reflection. I find it fulfilling and life-giving. And what actually fills me with great pride was his mission to find the women, invite them to his home for dinner, and then give back for what they gave to him. Wow!! I have since been wondering to myself why would he, a successful football player, even think about the three women who gifted him free hamburgers? Why would someone who has achieved so much even ponder on that part of his life, a time which may have been insignificant for some? There are many who would have closed that chapter of their lives, or become blinded with their new sense of self that they wouldn’t even associate themselves with that part of their history. What I find to be most gracious and comforting is that our lives are such that we can never tell who it is that would be transformed by our act of kindness - big or small. And we should never forget who it is that touched or transformed our lives with their kindness - however big or small.
There’s a gospel story where ten lepers called out to Jesus from a distance and requested healing. He simply asked them to go and show themselves to the priest. On their way, all ten realized that they had been cleansed of their leprosy. Of the ten, only one, a Samaritan, returned to give thanks for the healing. Jesus asked him, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Of the ten people, only one had the presence of mind to return and give thanks for the gift of healing he received.
Gratitude has a powerful way of stirring the human conscience. Wherever we are in life, and whichever station in which we find ourselves, gratitude creates that presence of mind which never grows tired of alerting you to the reality that, like Cristiano, you may also have gotten some help from someone. Other people, in fact - strangers they may be - gave you a metaphorical burger from McDonalds.
Strangely enough, one of the ladies, Edna, shared the story with her husband and children long before Ronaldo said a word about it. She never sought fame for it, nor did she reach out to Ronaldo to remind him about gifting him with burgers from McDonalds. She probably thought Ronaldo had forgotten about it; after all, the human disposition is prone to forget the kindness of others - especially when it is convenient. But here he was, after so many years, and hidden within the heart of this man was a desire to give back - to give back for what he was blessed with, and to express, in the most profound and personal way, his gratitude to the women for the burger they gave him when he was poor and hungry.
I have a book on my shelf in the office which expresses the idea that ‘gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.’ Paying attention, being awake.
Ronaldo eventually awoke to the giftedness of Edna and her friends and desired to pay back. Maybe, if we begin to pay attention, we will note the many ways in which we have been blessed with a metaphorical burger by Edna from McDonalds. More to the point, if we were to take stock of our lives - if we should stay awake to the gift of our lives - we can, with absolute confidence, proclaim with gratitude, ‘Ebenezer, this is how far you’ve brought me.’ And for that, my heart isn’t only full of extraordinary gratitude, but it also desires to give back.
Look for your Edna, invite her or him into your home for dinner, and give back in gratitude for that burger from McDonalds.