365 Grateful: Lessons from a cabbie

  
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.   

365 Grateful: ancient artifacts lie in the eyes of beholders

365-07-19-2015So 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.

365 - 07-16 -2015They’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.

shrooms2shrooms4

365 Grateful: Nutrition for your mind

365 - 07-09-2015So, 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.

365 Grateful: Sage Advice … From 1913

365 - 07-05-2015Today, in the midst of organizing and cleaning the computer room, I pick up a slim volume. It’s destined for either the bookshelf for keeping or the Crystal pile for donating, and I’m in a ruthless mood to purge. I consider its fate, flip a few pages in (there are only 41), and my eyes fall upon this passage:

“I offer ‘a way of life.’ ‘Undress,’ as George Herbert says, ‘your soul at night,’ not by self-examination, but by shedding, as you do your garments, the daily sins whether of omission or of commission, and you will wake a free man, with a new life. To look back, except on rare occasions for stock-taking, is to risk the fate of Lot’s wife. Many a man is handicapped in his course by a cursed combination of retro- and intro-spection, the mistakes of yesterday paralysing the efforts of today, the worries of the past hugged to his destruction, and the warm Regret allowed to canker the very heart of his life.”

A page or two beyond, I spy this:

“Let the limit of your horizon be a twenty-four hour circle. … Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future. Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of Day-Tight Compartment.”

Oh, it’s a timeless message, spoken so very long ago, extolling the virtue of living in the moment, neither mourning the past nor hurrying the future. Those words were written (spoken, actually), for an address delivered to Yale students in 1913 by William Osler, a Canadian physician and one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In this slim volume, Osler requested the inclusion of the words of 5th Century Indian Sanskrit poet Kalidasa:

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Grateful for the reminder to look to this day, not to yesterday or to tomorrow, for a life well-lived. My father obviously treasured this book. I can do no less. It will stay on the bookshelf because its wisdom transcends the years.

365 Grateful: Nature Never Ceases To Amaze Me

Today, I’m filled with gratitude at the natural world. Despite the arguments of humans, despite the political rhetoric of party vs. party, despite the rancor riled up by the Supreme Court’s decisions about Obamacare and Marriage Equality, despite the meddling of humans into the affairs of nature … this world is a pretty awesome place.

Today, I give you the lowly puffer fish, a five-inch or so creature who, when strutting his stuff for a potential mate, creates incredibly complex designs in the ocean floor. So grateful for seeing how the work of humans is simply inconsequential. Enjoy!

365 Grateful: Goose Pimple Index (GPI)

365-06-19-2015

My first vocal coach, exuberant, funny, and wildly talented, always said that when a singer really nailed a performance — I mean nailed the technical, emotional, spiritual essence of the music — the hairs on his arms would stand up as the goose bumps rose. He called it the Goose Pimple Index, or GPI, and it was his sure sign that the planets had aligned at that very moment in perfect musicality.

Tonight, I’m reading this passage from don Miguel Ruiz’s The Fifth Agreement, and I’m stunned. Why did I not make this connection before? The GPI for my vocal coach may have registered musical perfection, but for me, the GPI registers pure truth. When I’m in the presence of something so true and real and breathtakingly elemental, I experience the GPI phenomenon, in conjunction with the involuntary prick of tears that always signals the presence of authentic, honest truth.

As don Miguel writes, “I … know when their words come from truth, and I know because I can feel it.” Oh, yeah. I really get that. Grateful for insights that may lie dormant but that eventually bubble their way to the conscious mind.