Driving to work last week and listening to the radio news, all of it bad, I stopped at a local bakery to buy a king cake for my office. While putting my purchase in the car, I noticed a family moment in the parking lot.
A bakery clerk had gotten a king cake for her dad and asked him to pick it up before he started his shift as a security guard at a state agency. She had walked outside to hand him the small gift when he got out of his car. His face beamed as he held the cake, gazing at the Carnival-colored frosting. It was a grand bit of breakfast, yet what seemed to touch him the most wasn’t the cake, but that his daughter had thought to give it to him.
I think I knew what he was feeling. It was the sense parents of a certain age get as their children grow, reaching those moments when the roles are reversed and your child is now nurturing you.
“Thank you so much,” the man in the uniform said, his voice cracking a bit. “I love you, darling.”
The two embraced, and the daughter, perhaps hoping to lighten a moment that felt too deeply sentimental, reminded her father what king cakes are for. “Now Daddy,” she told him, “you’re going to have to share that king cake.”
He nodded, and maybe not wanting their brief visit to end just yet, she offered him a paper cup of coffee for the road. They talked a few more minutes as he savored the cup, its cloud of steam easily visible in the winter morning air.
I drove off, my mood improved, although the news on the radio remained as grim as ever. I was heartened to think that as depressing as the headlines are these days, there’s still some underlying goodness at the street level of our lives.
The recently passed holidays were supposed to remind us of that sustaining charity and goodwill, though the news cycle throughout the weeks of Yuletide often seemed to mute the merriment of the season.
In Louisiana, blessedly, that spirit of fellowship is getting a second wind. With Carnival season upon us, and the king cake tradition connecting us in a daisy-chain of giving and sharing until Mardi Gras, we can enjoy a momentary respite from the rancor of the public square.
My bakery visit also made me think of “A Small, Good Thing,” a Raymond Carver short story I mention here from time to time. It’s about a couple of bakery customers in pain because of a family loss who are temporarily comforted when the baker offers them warm cinnamon rolls. The gesture doesn’t resolve their anguish, but it reminds them they’re not alone.
Such small moments of grace are out there, even in rough times. It’s our privilege — and obligation — to notice them.