I often think of what I’m not, and of what my kids and husband aren’t. But it is an important time to think of what we all are, and what we have to be grateful for.
Gratitude is one of the most joyous emotions. It means that your eyes narrow in on the one patch of blue in an otherwise clouded sky, or that your nose manages to smell the fresh coffee brewing even though the garbage stinks in the can. Gratitude means feeling your chest rise and fall with breath instead of focusing in on the pain in your ankle.
It’s all about perspective. I’ve seen my dad and other painters do what they do enough times to understand how clearly perspective matters. What comes into view and what we are able to capture in our vision makes all the difference.
These days, I can’t help but feel that perspective has narrowed. We are so focused the things that we don’t have that the gratitude for what we do have seems to fade into the background, barely to be found.
I went out after my storytelling class this past Sunday with a friend I met at the Omega Institute, in a workshop on Mindfulness in Education. He is a Spanish teacher at a private school, and he practices mindfulness with his students. He is a coach, and the front man and drummer for a band called Sangha Tierra, that he uses, he says, to “spread the love.”
He is a former football player from Panama with long wild hair wrapped in a bun and a wide, warm smile. We ate Korean Fried Chicken at LP Turntable in Koreatown, and struck up a conversation with the Chinese waiter, a young man who came to this country just two years ago who learned English by serving food to New Yorkers. His English was amazing, far better than my Mandarin (of which I know none).
We’d been talking politics, and the young man was eager to engage. He is bullish about the American economy, and convinced that our president is good for China. He said he didn’t like big cities, cause they don’t tell you enough about the people of the country.
“They are all the same,” he said.
He was all smiles, and I was buoyed — if skeptical — about his view of my country and our leadership. I presented the need for a leader to be concerned for all citizens, and we spoke of the disparities between the haves and have-nots in both our countries, before parting amicably. I hope to see him again soon.
Sometimes I feel like I live in a dream, in a self-created bubble where only good things are allowed to happen, where there is no room for hatred or bigotry or any separation between people for any reason. I have amazing conversations with people who are doing amazing things, and feel a swell of pride on their behalf. Can you imagine moving to New York speaking no English, and learning how to carry on a conversation about politics and the future of the world’s people in English just two years later?
I’m not sure why this incident is making its way into my parenting column, except to say that wherever I go, whatever I do, I try my hardest to elicit the best from the people I encounter. I hope very much that my children can get past their annoyance that I speak constantly to strangers, and that I often ignore them in favor of learning about others. I hope they can forgive the fact that I am always asking Uber drivers and waiters and random people on train platforms what they think about things, and listening as they share their perspectives.
To live in a society with so many others and not stop to tell them things about you and listen as they tell you things about them, well, it would be hard to find the gratitude then. There would be no contrast, no context. There would be no way to formulate a realistic perspective. That would be a world in which I would not want to raise my children.
And so I choose to create my own universe, one in which every being I encounter has the ability to illuminate the world for me anew. To make me stop and appreciate every deep powerful breath I take, every word I am able to utter, and to focus on the great fortune we have to walk on this Earth.
On this day, we can take the opportunity to view our world with a shimmery soft light, with a slightly blurred lens that allows for the possibility that life is good, that it can be good, that we can make it good, together.
E-mail me with thoughts, questions, suggestions at fearl