We’re on our way to a weekend family reunion in Virginia when, yes, that diet cola kicks in and the words “Rest Stop” become magical. We pull over along the West Virginia Turnpike so I can zip in to the women’s room. What I spy there almost (almost!) makes me forget what I came in for.
There on the wall by the sinks with their typically placed soap dispensers is one hanging about waist height … and it’s absolutely awesome! Colorful, bright, just for kids (and a few adults, like me!) I have to bend down to stick my hand underneath, sure I am capturing some special kid-only soap. It’s magical. I laugh out loud, whip out my phone, and snap a photo. The folks coming in the door sidle away, but what do I care? They’re grown ups … big people. Not kids. A flash of sympathy sweeps through me, and I fling a wish into the stratosphere: that they may experience for themselves — and soon — the excitement of discovering delight in little things. Grateful that I still do.
We visited the Butterfly House at Thomson’s Landscaping in Marietta, Ohio, this weekend. While there were a few Monarch butterflies in various stages of life — from still-wet wings to voracious flower hunters — there were far more striking caterpillars inching their way along the leaves, leaving behind them strangely denuded stems.
As I watched them cling, and eat, and eat, and inch, and dangle, and eat … they seemed so far removed from their future selves. If I hadn’t learned about the life cycle of a butterfly in science class so long ago, I would never think that one begets the other.
Maybe we’re like those caterpillars. We travel in our ruts, doing what we’ve always done, looking for what we’ve always seen, hearing what we’ve always heard. Until one day we pause in our journey and wonder what else is out there and what more we might become. Purpose takes hold, and we know — we just KNOW — that there’s something else out there for us.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung called it individuation — the process of the self emerging from an undifferentiated unconscious. It’s then that innate elements of our personalities (our immature psyche) integrate with our life experiences and we become a more complete, well-functioning whole. It takes a lifetime, and we never become fully, totally complete. We can always evolve.
Today, I’m grateful for delightful caterpillars, as beautiful in their many-footed way as their winged selves will be in the not-too-distant future.
I met an amazing man today. We shared a cab from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to downtown, and talked all the way about anything from politics (always dangerous) to education to work ethic to cars (he believes the Toyota Prius is the best car out there, and I pretty much agree).
He told me about his daughter, his pride palpable. She just graduated from Loyola University with a 4.0 in business and pre-law, and she spoke at her graduation ceremonies. He is so proud that she only has $15,000 worth of debt after four years, courtesy of her smarts and willingness to work hard to achieve her goals of getting a college degree (scholarships being the end result … Loyola is not cheap). That $15,000 is a car loan, by the way, not tuition debt.
But that’s only part of the story. This man was my driver, his heavily accented English cluing me in that he hailed from another country. Albania. He, his wife and two kids arrived here with nothing. He took two jobs — by day at a car wash and at night as a dishwasher at a Chicago hotel — just to keep the family going and give his kids a great start in life.
His pride when he spoke of going to see his daughter graduate and hearing her give the address made my eyes leak.
He asked me, “Do you know what she said?” His eyes met mine in the rear view mirror before he continued. “In front of thousands of people there, she talked about how we had come here with nothing, knowing no one, and how she studied and worked hard to get to where she was that day. She told them that if she could do that with nothing, knowing nobody, they could all do it, too. Every one of them.”
This man drives a cab in Chicago. He works seven days a week. He almost didn’t go to his daughter’s graduation because he needed to work, but she insisted, and he’s very glad he did. He makes money, he says, but he wasn’t able to pay for his daughter’s education, although it worked out because she was smart and got scholarships.
Still, you know what he said? “I’m happy because I was able to support my family so both of my kids could get college degrees and jobs. If I do nothing else, that is enough.”
After I caught my breath, I told him he had done a marvelous thing and had every right to be extremely proud.
So very very grateful to have gotten this particular cab.
So tiny. Smaller than a thumbnail. So meticulously constructed. Abandoned after a year of storage on the wires of a bird feeder. It’s like a miniature pottery vase, maybe from some ancient insect civilization, if you consider a year to be ancient. But then, perhaps to an insect that IS ancient history.
I found it today, marveled at the workmanship crafted undoubtedly by a paper wasp. I’m grateful for this glimpse on a different level altogether of the world in which I live. Paper Wasp from last year, Ancient Egyptian from 3100 BC, Hopi potter from 1300. When I look at nature, as Thoreau suggests, at the level of the tiniest leaf or from the vantage point of an insect, those worlds are not so different.
They’re tiny little things, these fungi in my front mulch, clinging somehow to elusive nutrients in sticks and chips of wood, made hospitable by the fact we’ve had rain nearly every day for a month or two.
I woke up to a veritable forest of slender, pale gray toadstools that had poked their leggy selves up overnight. I came home to a wasteland, as if some terrible wind had plucked them from the ground, uprooting what tenuous connections they had to Mother Earth.
Dismayed, I looked closer. Ah, peeking up through those inhospitable chips of wood mulch were new, tiny heads, no bigger than a quarter of an inch. Another forest’s worth of life ready to bust forth tonight while I sleep.
Grateful, then, for tiny toadstools living gloriously fleeting lives in the space of a day in my front garden bed of mulch. They make me realize that we exist in a symbiotic environment. I respect that. It’s a give and take kind of world, even when it seems so many of us prefer taking to giving most of the time. There’s still hope.
So, on impulse at Lowe’s yesterday, I picked up a TIME special publication, The Science of Sleep, mainly because buying a doggie door just didn’t cut it in the cognitive enrichment area for me. I’ve only read the first, short article by Andrew Weil, M.D. (I fell asleep), but this passage jumped out at me:
I often give advice about nutrition, and I like to think of it not just in the narrow sense of food for the body but in the broader sense of what we choose to experience and how the choices affect our minds and emotions.
Awesome. Just awesome. Because I really believe that where I put my eyes and my attention pretty much determines what I see and experience, and thus where I tend to dwell in in my head and the emotions that bubble up to the top of my life.
I believe this because, well, I live it. A bunch of years back in a whole other lifetime I hung around with a really great person who used snarky, biting (and, yes, funny) criticism of everyone and everything else to basically help him feel better about himself. He pulled things and people down so he’d feel taller and better. As Dr. Weil says, what we choose to experience affects our minds and emotions. I fell into that mode, too.
A few years ago I made a conscious shift to cultivate gratitude, to look for the good in any situation (even crappy, hard ones), and to focus on being more positive. I changed my diet of experiences and focus, and, wow, did those choices pay off.
Today, then, I’m really grateful for stumbling across this magazine at a most unlikely place and for the whim that nudged me into buying it. Even more, though, I’m grateful for having improved my experiential nutrition so much that I recognize the truth in these words.