Simple Gratitude

JoAnne - Westbrook, Maine
Entered on December 24, 2008

Simple Gratitude

I was despondent at having to return to the “real world.” I wanted to head up the trail and see what more I could learn.

The wilderness has a simple, unforgiving clarity– no favoritism. The woods don’t care if you went to Harvard or are a high school drop out, if your parents own their own plane, or if you grew up in the ghetto. The rules are the same for all; eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, stay warm. Listen. Look. Pay Attention.

As the world receded, I became more alert–noticing things I hadn’t ever taken the time to–the quality of light, abundance of sounds and colors, frenetic activity of chipmunks, undisturbable concentration of a hunting hawk, wind, rain, the quality of darkness, the number of stars.

I rediscovered simple pleasures like listening to a harmonica, or working together to create a meal from limited ingredients. Problem solving opportunities abounded and the pleasure in making a shower out of baggies and plastic tubing or keeping food cold in the swift river brought gratitude.

Lucie couldn’t stand the wait. She ran to the front of the bus “Please! Let me off here!” Reluctantly, he squeaked open the doors for her, She bolted down the hill, and across the parking lot, her 60 lb backpack throuncing around. Her daughter ran toward her. The two embraced in a fierce, endless hug.

On the bus we cheered, many with tears in our eyes, for that glorious reunion.

Many years have passed since that wilderness learning adventure. Over those years, I have replayed that scene. That trip was a first step on a quest for simplicity that has lain dormant, until recently.

I have always admired the concept of simplicity and people who manage to live simply. While I have admired others, I have only recently begun to understand this concept.

For the past several months, my family has experienced a financial crisis. A combination of events–loss of job, major surgery, and poor real estate market all conspired. At first my dominant emotion was fear: What if? I chanted, gnawing at my fingernails, losing sleep, snapping at my husband and daughter. I had no ability to enjoy glorious summer days that presented themselves. Gone was my ability to appreciate my environment. I remembered a technique I had been taught, which was to picture the “worst case scenario”, and to face it head on.

My worst-case scenario was: we lost our home and had to live in an apartment, and declare bankruptcy. Big deal! I said to myself. I have what I need I have the love of family and friends and relatively good health. So we had to go on state-sponsored insurance for a while, so what? All I had to do was read a newspaper, listen to NPR, watch news, or take a walk downtown, and I knew that mine is not nearly as painful or profound a struggle as many who have travelled from unsafe situations and sometimes persecution, to this new land. My struggle was nothing compared to what others in the world, and even in my own city faced, Many had suffered, some languishing in refugee camps for years, before getting out. What was I complaining about?

I challenged myself to find joy, We committed ourselves to finding free or very inexpensive ways to have fun as a family, or as a couple.

Our experience began in summer with an abundance of free things to do: walking on the beach, attending concerts, visiting petting zoos l became our routine and brought us hours of joy without spending.

Cooking together became a focus. Two-year-old Hannah pours the water. She looks up with pride, “I did it!” She exclaims with a grin. I lift her up, so she can pour the macaroni into the boiling water. Then comes her favorite part, stirring in the cheese.

I started to feel, similar to my wilderness experience, an increased sense of gratitude for simple pleasures like reading a book with my daughter, watching her j as she feeds ducks, laughing together as we run, or enjoying a lakeside picnic.

The Chinese symbol for crisis has two parts–danger and opportunity. I am learning how to focus on the opportunity rather than the danger. I have a roof over my head, we have enough food, clean water and heat. Most importantly, we have each other. It took me a long time to find my husband and have a child. I will not let our financial circumstance be the thing that destroys what we have built together.

The crisis is an opportunity to develop a new appreciation for each other. My husband brings an even-keeled, practical approach. Having been raised in poverty, he has a skill-set and confidence. He has clarity around “need” vs. “want.” His steadfast work ethic and perseverence have helped. I bring a creative twist to making things enjoyable and organizational skills Our daughter brings joy– her belly laugh, her wonder at the world. Walking alongside her, I am forced to slow down and see the world. Through her eyes I can again visit the quality of light, the activity of birds and animals, the number of stars in the sky, and the quality of darkness.