I once knew a girl who taught me a wonderful life lesson. I can’t remember her name, how we met or how long we dated. The only thing I remember about her is that she claimed she slept in the nude (not the life lesson I’m talking about here) and that she loved to walk in the rain.
She converted me from grumbling about the damn rain to actually enjoying the visceral experience of raindrops falling on my face, puddles to walk around and the sound of raindrops crashing on leaves. We would walk around some local lake and find a place, under a tree, to hunker down and feel the summer breeze on our faces, listen to the warm water lapping on the shoreline and just enjoy the mutual experience.
It was a great example of enjoying our surroundings without having to make reservations, prepayment, reserved seating or any crowds around us. It was there. It was free for the feeling. All we had to do was enjoy our surroundings.
Not that long ago, I rediscovered this joy of my surroundings that I had neglected for so long. It began with my secret garden in my side yard. Then morphed to the wonderful panoramic mountain views in my backyard and finally the scope of desert wash, distant mountains and clouds dancing across the sky on my daily walks. All free viewing at no charge, no expense and twenty-four hours a day.
Summertime in Minnesota brings out the best of our mulch garden. My ‘coffee and chat’ sessions take me to wonderful beachfront panoramic views of a local lake. Bike rides take me along the Mississippi River and peaceful spots to rest along the inlets there. But appreciation can take other forms too.
Last year, I self-published my 12th and latest novel entitled ‘Playground for the Devil.’ As I always do, I sent copies to family members and included several friends who I thought would appreciate the book. Writing the book had been a long and arduous task but I was proud of the outcome and especially the storyline I had created.
I wasn’t expecting a bouquet of flowers for my gesture. A simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed. I got two acknowledgments. My wife wasn’t particularly surprised. The kids knew the book was coming and so did some of those friends.’ It wasn’t unexpected’, she said, ‘so they probably thought ‘oh, thanks’ to themselves and that was that.’ It was a good life lesson for me.
Instead of being disappointed because I didn’t get universal acclaim, I wish I had been able to see that I’ve been gifted with the ability to tell stories quite easily in any number of different formats and genres and I get to share those stories with others I care for. I shouldn’t expect to be thanked for every gesture of kindness I make. I’m working on that simple fact now.
Aiding me in that examination of gratitude and appreciation was a new book I just read called: ‘Social Intelligence.’ One of the gems hidden among the pages was this recognition of life around us and how to embrace it; without any price tag, social status or recognition.
Now I will be the first to tell anyone that I am hardly qualified to talk about gratitude and appreciation. While I accept that this is a lame-ass retreat from responsibility, I can only fall back on the ‘excuse’ that I wasn’t raised that way. My mother was a lifelong survivor of her German heritage and Catholic upbringing. Self-reliance was built into her DNA and asking for help was something she rarely if ever did (and only then) under great duress. I think her attitude about gratitude was “they know I appreciate what they’ve done,’ I don’t have to tell them.”
Unfortunately, I picked up a lot of those same selfish traits and brought them to our marriage. Sharon’s gestures of appreciation at first confused, amused and befuddled me. ‘Where was the ROI or recognition for her gesture of kindness; I certainly didn’t see it coming back to her in spades.
But gradually over the years, I’ve come to realize that wasn’t the point. If it was the right thing to do, then expecting recognition was only a nice added benefit. While it hurt not to be recognized as a kind gesture, the gesture itself should be satisfaction enough…because it was the right thing to do. Hard lesson to learn for someone like myself.
As a society, I think we’ve become more self-absorbed and unaware of kind gestures on the part of others. Often times, I have to remind myself that the simple act of showing gratitude and appreciation really isn’t a monumental task to tackle. A simple ‘thank you’ to the clerk or attendant or server doesn’t hurt or diminish your own stature.
While I’m not a card-sender or note-writer like my wife, I do try to make the effort when it’s called for. It doesn’t hurt and actually feels pretty good on the inside. Taking time to (forgive me here) ‘smell the roses’ is a wonderful way to thank yourself for the life you lead and the ability to see any and all treasures all around your daily life. Taking in the beauty of our surroundings costs nothing and the ROI (return on investment) is priceless.