The Usual Way of Things
Something occurred to me. Every December, as the new year approaches, it seems to be the natural tendency of many of us to give a “grade” to the calendar year that is about to end. You know what I mean. Does this sound familiar, “Good riddance to 2___” or “2___ was a terrible year because [xyz].”
My general impression is that most of these reviews of the prior year tend to focus on negative events. People often will cite to beloved figures who we lost, disappointments in the political realm, and personal setbacks as evidence of the prior year’s failings. Perhaps it is our collective way of making big-picture sense of our world or maybe it is our way of marking time and to literally and figuratively flip the calendar to a new year.
As I think about it, this practice both is despair-inducing and wonderfully hopeful. Simultaneously, we rue the imperfections of days gone by with only-ifs and bask in the unrealized perfection of the will-dos of days to come. If we really are honest in our assessments though, the year that passed wasn’t as terrible as we remember (lots of good things happened), and [spoiler alert] the year ahead will be filled with its fair set of challenges and obstacles.
So what are we to do? Do we just muddle through life believing that the best always is yet to come and that our troubles of yesterday are ugly warts on a constantly imperfect past? If I were a life doctor, I’d likely diagnose us all with a serious case of the human condition.
There really only is one time-tested and proven treatment for our affliction. It is available to us all in heavy doses without a prescription, and you cannot overdose on it. However, it sometimes can feel elusive and distant, and the big question we all need to ask ourselves is whether we will be compliant patients.
The only cure is gratitude. Gratitude for things big and small. Gratitude for moments gone by and for those yet to come. We’re talking about clear-headed gratitude here not head-in-clouds, everything is great all the time, and we can never be sad or disappointed gratitude. It is really just appreciating as much as we can as often as we are able. Sometimes it will be easier than other times, so let’s focus on when it comes most naturally and take things from there. If we do it right (or at least better), perhaps when we consider the closing year, we’ll do it with softer eyes.
Just in case it might seem otherwise, I sit not in judgment of others or in some high place of greater wisdom. In fact, the person who needs to heed these words most is the one typing them, which I suppose is the usual way of things. This is my aspirational (not operational) mission that hopefully is a reminder to those reading along [thanks, mom].
In closing, I want to leave you with one of my favorite stories. It is not exactly a spot-on parable in regards to my message today, but it is pretty close. Here goes:
Once there was an old and very wise man. Every day he would sit outside a gas station in his rocking chair and wait to greet motorists as they passed through his small town. On this day, his granddaughter knelt down at the foot of his chair and slowly passed the time with him.
As they sat and watched the people come and go, a tall man who surely had to be a tourist-since they knew everyone in the town-began looking around as if he were checking out the area for a place to live. The stranger walked up and asked, “So what kind of town is this we’re in?” The older gentleman slowly turned to the man and replied, “Well, what kind of town are you from?” The tourist said, “in the town I am from everyone is very critical of each other. The neighbors all gossip about everyone and it’s a real negative place to live. I’m sure glad to be leaving. It is not a very cheerful place.” The man in the chair looked at the stranger and said, “You know, that’s just how this town is.”
An hour or so later a family that was also passing through stopped for gas. The father stepped out of the car and also asked the man, “Is this town a pretty good place to live?” The man in the chair replied, “What about the town you are from? How is it? The father looked at him and said, “Well, in the town I’m from everyone is very close and always willing to lend their neighbor a helping hand. There’s always a hello and thank you everywhere you go. I really hate to leave. I feel almost like we are leaving family.” The older gentleman turned to the father and gave him a warm smile. “You know, that’s a lot like this small town.” Then the family returned to the car, said their thank yous, waved goodbye and drove away.
After the family was in the distance, the granddaughter looked up at her grandfather and asked, “Grandpa, how come when the first man came into our town you told him it was a terrible place to live and when the family came into town you told them it was a wonderful place to live?” The grandfather lovingly looked down at his granddaughter’s wondering blue eyes and said, “No matter where you move, you take your own attitude with you and that’s what makes it terrible or wonderful.”
Here’s to hoping that every town you visit in 2018 is full of kind and happy people.
Happy holidays to you all.
With love and gratitude [I’m practicing],
Jake [from the summer]