Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: humbleness

The Magic You See When You Close Your Eyes

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on November 20, 2017. 

Late afternoon Saturday found us at our neighbours’. My husband was to lend a helping hand lifting a potato and onion box our neighbour built for his wife. There was no defined B-line between walking in, moving the said box, sharing stories of old and new, and the time when we were all seated in the living room, our boys and dog included, their dog too, listening to Todd playing his guitar. It just happened.

He played a Johnny Cash song first and then a composition of his own. His fingers picked gently at the chords and his voice waltzed with the guitar sounds at a mesmerizing rhythm. The magic of those shared moments of beauty made my thoughts burrow deep inside where I only seldom get to go; life’s hurried that way. During Todd’s song I closed my eyes, so I could better see the place he was describing, the wind-swept islands of Haida Gwaii.

That sent me straight to my favourite quote by Helen Keller ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they have to be felt with the heart.’ This quote stuck to me back in high school because there was something she was alluding to that I was not sure how to describe or get myself close to do so, but I knew it was true and worthwhile. Many life stumbles later including births, deaths, farewells and new beginnings, moments alone and with people that hold my heart in theirs, I started to understand more. You get to see more by closing your eyes. It’s where the soul fairies live and dance.

Todd’s song and his words opened the door towards that state of wonder. In the softly lit living room and with all of us in a spell, I was reminded that I could see better if I closed my eyes. It brought me to tears, for many reasons amalgamated. Todd is blind, you see. And yet, since we met him, I’ve learned that he sees more than many of us do with our intact, or close to, vision.

He sees those he meets in a way that few of us do. He listens in a way few of us do. He lives a fuller life that many of us do, simply because he does not take any given day for granted. I got to learn that since I made his acquaintance.

I met him shortly after we moved in mid-November. I was returning from an afternoon walk with the dog. I said hello and introduced myself. I introduced my family too, in absentia. Might as well, since we live across the back lane. Our dog, an overt people lover, budged in with much curiosity and smelled his hand. Todd stooped down and petted her, remarking on her soft coat and snuggly nature. Then he asked me to describe her.

Ah, I realized he could not see. I described her as accurate as I could. We chatted some more, and I left bewildered. Not because I had met a person who was blind, but because when I greeted him in the back lane and introduced myself, I actually interrupted him from work. His shirt was peppered with wood dust and so were his hands.

Soon after, I met his wife, Maggie. Her smile is just as heartful as his, which is why we never just say hello and get going. There’s always an extra life bit shared. It’s better that way.

Todd is often in his workshop. He builds furniture and makes beautiful things, many of which adorn their home. His hands tell stories of many a happy hour spent in the shop. Yes, you may wonder, like we did ‘But… how can he do that?’ He’d laugh at that and say he does it the same way anyone else does; with care. With love and dedication, I’d add. Lots of it.

The same way he learned to play guitar, which he did after the accident that left him blind, in his mid-twenties. From one day to the next, his world turned black. You need a heap of grace and resilience not only to go through that, but to grow, despite of it. Todd has both, plus a whole lot of determination.

To do his full-time job, and hold the volunteering positions he’s been taking over the years, many of which made him instrumental in designing the blind-friendly features that the streets and public buildings of Kamloops now have. In a world we take for granted, he sees so much more that can be improved on. It’s humbling. And even more humbling is to hear that on more than one occasion people address his wife rather than him directly, assuming that his handicap prevents him from being who he actually is. Indeed, it takes grace to know that.

My husband and I tell Todd that he types faster than both of us combined and he laughs a hearty laugh. He shows the boys how he does it, and then he sends each of them an email. They’ll email him back in a couple of days. He makes a deal with our youngest to exchange jokes, they both seem to have a knack for it.

We say goodbye after we plan another get together. Again, I find myself bewildered. Both Todd and his wife are as warm as can be, gently embracing each other’s presence and building a space for us, their friends, to come as we are. It’s called grace. It’s called gratefulness. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

Learning To Be A Leftie; With Gratitude

Part of the definition of humbled comes from having one’s body part fail in some way. It’s a swift and powerful reminder of how fragile the balance is after all, and how easily forgotten our limitations are. When I say limitations, I do not mean we’re fragile by design and thus doomed, but that the tissues that form our bodies are, after all, no matter how many miles you run, swim or cycle in a day, breakable. Knowing that adds beautiful dimensions to life, doesn’t it, just as much as it adds that inescapable feeling of doom. Do not give into it though, that’s not what this is about.

More humbling yet is that the occasional painful reminder inserts itself mysteriously into your daily routine and there’s not telling where it came from or when it will end. There’s also a silly resemblance to a mouse you’d hold by its tail, if you will, though no tails are needed to paint this picture. You’re the mouse. It’s the nagging discomfort that holds you upside down until you figure out how to reposition yourself upright with grace and dignity; or at least one of them.

I am learning how to be a leftie these days, for two weeks ago a tendon in my right hand decided to travel away from its well-designed groove (or what seemed to be well-designed up to this point anyway) and over the knuckle it went, leaving an empty space behind and lots of questions in my mind as to why the sudden change. Mystery is the salt of life? Perhaps. Less funny when you’re it. Acceptance, they say, is what carries you to where the said grace and dignity reside.

Past the annoyance of pain and inability to carry on with the usual activities using my trusted right hand (I trust them both, but I have obviously favourited my right one so far), there is a side of me that is fascinated with the current limitations. As I walk around protecting my right hand from further injury, I am humbled by the realization that the rest of me works just fine and that that is a level of wonder many of us have come to acknowledge as an ordinary state of affairs as we go about our day. I’d say we ought to declare that a sin of some sort.

Would it be too much to say we take ourselves for granted? Never before has more research poured out our way, laying as thick as can be the knowledge that should keep us working in good order for the rest of our lives: eat healthy instead of pretending to or finding lame excuses to binge such as ‘you only live once’, sleep enough (despite of the lifeless blue-bad-for-you-light gadgets promising the world which by the way, they’ll never deliver but we take our chances anyway), get up and move around so our veins don’t turn stiff too soon; you get the idea.

The thing is, for the most part, we go about our days treating our bodies with a certain degree of recklessness, fully unaware of the wonders they carry within. On the days when a Facebook post reminds us poetically that we are but stardust, we throw a longer gaze at our sun-kissed forearms or spend a few extra minutes looking at our reflection in the mirror, wondering how it is that atoms linked together become vision, taste, or awareness of the sudden flutter of a moth we startled as we walked by and brushed against the curtains.

So here’s to wishing that my days spent as a leftie (that will be a few weeks, I am told) will leave me with an extra helping of gratitude for being able to clench my fists whenever I need to (in the near future), or sew a button on my oldest son’s shirt, or paint, chop onions and carrots, make apple sauce, and throw some dice when the days end with playing a board game, which I am hoping they will. Simplicity. Taking sips from the half-full glass and trusting that it’ll never run empty.

It’s the simple things that carry the biggest reminders; perhaps because as we go through life we realize that there is no big story waiting to happen that will help us unlock gratitude. The secret lies with the small, simple events that we spin into long threads, day after day, which then we make into tapestries, knots showing, because that’s what this story is all about. Some times are knottier than others. Be it so, keeping it real is what we’re here for. To wish for no bigger blessing than to be able to remember all of this I go along, no matter if my hands are available to help me do so, that is what I am hoping the days spent as a leftie will leave behind.

I’ll Meet You Where Humbleness Grows

Gratefulness is this wonderfully easy-to-forget thought that we stumble upon every now and when we do, we say ‘of course I am.’ Right? On a good day, I remember the thanks, the smiles that go with them, and yes, I am noticing the sun dancing on a bee’s wings.

Life takes any opportunity to remind of all sides of any story though. My daily forays in the park with pup on my side is where many of the reminders come about.

Graceful enough, on any given day, I oblige and show gratefulness for the buzzing that surrounds the tall, yellow-tufted mustard weeds and for the world of tall grasses that hug my legs with long, sharp blades of green and seedy heads.

On any given day, I give my thanks for the silence that is punctuated with the clinking sound of the pup’s tags ringing her presence. Near, far, near, hiding, stop… smell, jump, near, far, near. I stop, she stops. For the sky that traps my gaze in its vivid blue streaked with long, wispy clouds.

I am grateful for the resident hawk that belongs in that blue as much as clouds do; for the graceful circles he traces up there, and for how I can let time sink under my feet as I stop and stare. Grateful for not having to rush, for the humility that I find in walking as the hawk flies, high and wordlessly loud.

On any given day, I am grateful for noticing two round eyes peeking through the foggy-white leaves of a Russian olive tree. A doe, ever so inconspicuous, silently nestled in the warm sand. I give my thanks to the doe through the secrecy I commit to. I do not betray her presence to pup, who translates gratefulness of encounters into mad chases. She’ll never catch up to any deer but the chase is what she’s after.

Last night, a doe we met on the trail stared, as we did too. No chasing by pup, no unnecessary moves for a few long minutes. Just long gazes that needed no deciphering. No explanation other than the gratefulness of sharing time and transcending what we think of communication for a few minutes.

On any given day, it feels like the park with all its green extravaganza of grasses, birds, bugs, and frothy creeks is ours; we stroll, pup and I, with the confidence of knowing its secrets and its songs.

Humbleness never sends a harbinger, that much I know. This morning we walk the same way we always do. We take the path, the bridge, poking the cloud of sweet overgrown summer grasses as we rush through.

Rustling in the brush nearby gives someone’s presence away. Pup’s ears perk up. Startled, she barks. On the side of the path, barely hiding, two young people sit among weeds and scattered belongings. The man looks up, eyes glazed and slurry words barely making their way out as I apologize for my intruding dog.

The woman’s face is covered by long, black hair and she throws a sideway confused look. Sadness overwhelms me as I leave them to it. ‘It’ means injected drugs. Right there, off the path, steps away from people walking dogs and chatting about the day being a good one. Lost souls. I felt conflicted about the privilege I have. To walk, carefree, pup included, through place where I see but beauty and I am reminded of gratefulness. To see and feel the world as is: hurting at times, but beautiful and surprising on any given day.

Today I am reminded of more. Of how deep the wounds that hurt us humans run, of how profound their print on our soul, of how easy it is to be smug when all is lined up and society nods upon you approvingly, and how easy it is to forget that that when people find themselves trapped on the dark side of life, judgment is often what most of us have to offer.

We know judgment distances us from where humanity belongs, but fear of looking at darkness and relating to it (because let’s face it, there’s shreds of darkness in every one of us) makes us push our belonging efforts to where the light is.

Tomorrow, pup and I will pass by the spot where the young couple was. She’ll smell the grasses and wonder, and I will be reminded that gratefulness comes in dark tones as well as bright ones. That I need a whole lot of humbleness to remember that.

The Case of Bird vs. People

It’s a beautiful and yet uneasy feeling. Walking into a territory where you belong but do not speak the language or even barely understand what the high and low notes mean. That’s what an ordinary morning does: it turns on you. The guest, you.

Pup and I walk the couple of blocks to the park and then we let loose. She’s off her leash, allowed by higher authorities than me, and I am off mine (everyday rush and craziness). A couple of crows swoop close enough but not like last year’s bullies that almost got me twice. Not yet anyway. Building nests and having babies is serious business, I know that. Humans can meddle, as they’ve shown on many an occasion. We’re on the black list, no pun intended, and the crows show it when they have a chance.

Pup and I hike the hill taking the narrow steep trail, all the way to the top. If you steer a gentle left you leave the highway buzz behind and the crystal-clear song of a meadowlark (now I know) reaches straight into your soul as if to show what you’re missing on when immersed in urban cacophony.

Just like that, you’re hooked; you’ll be seeking this cascade of sounds every morning. I do. The meadowlark perches herself (himself?) on the very top of the tree and delivers a loud, clear and perfectly harmonized song it makes me wonder the same every time: where does so much sound come from when the body is so puny?

I choose to think of it as a greeting. I am no birder, hence sweet ignorance protects my feelings. It could be a threat call (pup and I are the threat, again), or it could be a song delivered despite our presence there for other purposes. My new reading ‘What the Robin Knows’ (author John Young) is building a pyramid of question marks in my head. The more I read, the clearer it becomes: I know nothing of birds. I thought I did, a bit. Sweet ignorance, how thick your veil.

The resident hawk I often see swooping from a scraggly tall dead-looking (I know it’s not) Ponderosa pine dances rather than flies. Elegance. I think of us humans walking, often waddling, hunched forward, ungraciously forgetting to even breathe deep enough in our rush, forgetting to look up at the sky, overwhelmed by problems, often self-created, painful many of them yet diligently maintained. Yes, I envy the hawk easiness of being…Grace.

Robins. We saw two this morning, possibly a couple. Staring as if to detect our intentions. Friendly. How do I say that in bird language? I stop and stare. They’re beautiful and remind me of my mom. Here’s why.

One flies away to get the pup’s attention. Protecting a mate perhaps. The one left on the branch looks at me. I am fascinated, mute in my delight and sorrowful in how most of us humans have forgotten to sit quietly and observe… Sparrows dart every which way, cheeky and cheery, even on a rainy day. The life continuum sketched by outstretched wings, chirps, and intentions I will most likely never be able to interpret.

The other day I found a dead bird on the side of the path. As if asleep, its tiny body frozen yet soft to the touch. Light as feathers… patches of sparkling yellow on its sides and head, beautiful gray and charcoal ones adorning the body, wings and tail; delicate black feet. The boys and I identified it; an Audubon warbler. One less song. Warblers sing just because, for the love of it… I would have never known. It took this bird on the side of the path. Why did it die, the boys asked? I had no answer. Quiet reverence as death stares us in the face. So easy to forget we’re all due one. Infatuation over our self-proclaimed superiority doesn’t help when humility is needed.

We know so little. It’s easy to let go when you know little. There’s but one answer: we ought to learn more. Understanding even a fragment of that continuum; the language of songs that fill mornings with wonder, with panic, with love, with sounds that perpetuate life. Our songs are the same, except that we sing inwardly and mostly forget to do so by the time we need it the most. We ought to relearn, we ought to rediscover serenity, grace, and that sliver of gratefulness… the robin knows…

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