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 - 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.


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: Goose Pimple Index (GPI)


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.


365 Grateful: base metal or awesome nature?

365 - 04-05-2015

There’s something fascinating about crystals. Rocks. Geodes. Creations of geology, of Mother Earth. Particularly amazing are the iron pyrite crystals — fool’s gold. They’re not like any crystals you probably imagine. They’re square. Four-sided, square crystals. Super-fine specimens are smooth, others may be striated, depending on how and where and under what circumstances they grew.

IronPyrite2015I picked these up at a relatively local rock shop; since then Charlie broadened my collection with an amazing specimen from Spain, in its original matrix. Awesome.

Perhaps it’s because they remind me of square pegs fitting in round holes. Not a perfect fit … not at all. But just because they don’t match the classic concept of a crystal doesn’t make them any less of one. In fact, it makes them rugged, individualistic, unique — almost as though they’re growing to the sound of a different drummer.

I’m grateful for these solid, square crystals, because they remind me that it’s OK to think for myself, to trust my instincts, to be authentic. Fool’s Gold? Maybe they should be considered True Gold instead.


365 Grateful: Happy Birthday, Charlie


June 10. It’s Charlie’s birthday, and today I’m awash in the joy of time spent with him on the golf course. He loves the game. I like to ride the cart and read a book, coach him a little bit on what he’s doing wrong (seriously?), and enjoy nature as well as companionship  … even if my activity has little to do with the sport.

I used to think riding along during a golf game was a gift I gave to Charlie, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a gift I also give to myself — we both get the gift of time, connection, love, and companionship. It’s priceless.

Of course, a few golf lessons and a brand new driver don’t hurt, either.  Happy birthday, hon. I’m grateful for you and the time we spend together.

365 Grateful: Remembering To Not Rush

365 - 06-06-2015We’ve lived in our new home for six months now. Nearly every day, and sometimes several times a day, we drive this route that’s cut by railroad tracks. Never once have we encountered a train. Until today. Forced to sit, and wait, I’m reminded again of the promise of slowness, of living in the moment, of not hurrying time. Grateful for little reminders — and for discovering that, yes, Virginia, trains do run on that track!