Sunday, March 18, 2012

On the Subject of Gratitude

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”—Marcus Aurelius

I've been writing and talking a lot lately about gratitude. Thursday was one of my rare days out. You all know that I rarely leave the farm. Vacations are certainly out of the question since we acquired five four legged babies that constantly need our care. Oddly, I don't have a friend who will volunteer to take care of them and if I paid to board all of them, I couldn't afford a trip any farther than the next town anyway. It doesn't matter, they are well worth the sacrifice. Still, it isn't just the horses that keep me tied to my doorstep. I am truly becoming a hermit in my old age. Part of the reason is my weight. I was once told by a therapist that I was an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. I think that is probably true. If you want to know the most essential difference between an introvert and an extravert, let me tell you since I've evidently experienced both sides of that coin. An extrovert wants to be on display and the center of attention; an introvert always feels as if they are on display and the center of attention even when they aren't and especially when they don't want to be. So, introvert that I most surely am, I always feel as if every person I encounter be they friend, foe or stranger is scrutinizing my appearance and judging me. Rationally, I know this isn't true. My pal, Paula, hair dresser extraordinaire(!) said to me last Thursday, as we were discussing many of those painful and embarrassing facts of life that you don't learn about until you pass fifty, this time namely, facial hair, that she was always afraid that people were staring at her facial hair while she shampooed their hair. I assured her that I didn't even look at her while she shampooed me and I really think that I'd have to strain my neck back to do so. But isn't it odd that we all think people are really looking at us more than they actually are? I'd say that the truth is, most people are far more concerned about their own appearance than they are anyone else's and we also tend to overlook other's faults and accentuate their best features when we do just the opposite with ourselves. Yet, even though that is all very true and it was my own realization and observation, I'm still insecure going out in public with what I see as my grossly obese body and obscenely long stray facial hairs (okay, occasionally one will sprout up on my neck, too...those are the worst because I don't always see them.) I never feel insecure when I make my monthly visit to see my friend Paula however. That is my one constant social activity and honestly, the one I enjoy the most. I love Paula and the other two girls who work with her, Kathy and Jennifer. We laugh so much and occasionally we cry. We share our lives both the good and bad and always feel that they sincerely care and like me without judgement. That is indeed something to be thankful for and Paula and I talked about gratitude last Thursday and how it is good for our souls, our hearts and our well being. Since we do always share so much of our lives and so many of the same interests, that conversation was not unusual. What was a bit of karmic coincidence (Albert Einstien said that coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.) was the conversation I struck up after my visit with Paula with a stranger in the Walmart produce section. I joked toward the end of our talk that we bonded over pineapple and strawberries. That is exactly why we began to talk. This tall, elegant lady, in a beautiful blue dress which was quite appropriate for the warm, sunny, Spring-like day, was sniffing pineapples at the same time I was and we started talking about how much we loved the fruit and what a great price they were (1.67 each if you're in the area and interested.) I don't know how we got to the subject of weight and health but I discovered so much about that lady as we stood between the fruit bins. She has recently lost 90 pounds! She use to work in the corporate world. She was a competitive body builder at one time. She loves to swim. She never believed in debt and she saved for years and paid cash for her home. That last fact is significant because, two years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease,Guillian-Barre'Syndrome, which left her partially paralyzed and unable to work. She told me that she had forced herself to remain as active as possible. When she couldn't walk, she swam. When she couldn't walk upright, she came into that same store stooped but determined never to use a wheel chair or one of those ride about carts that the store offers to the handicapped. She said that she still has bad days but Thursday was a good day and she was grateful for that. She said that she was also grateful that after almost a year of testing, she had finally been diagnosed. And she was grateful that all those years of saving and never going in debt allowed her not to worry about not being able to work or days that weren't so good. I told her that I had just before, been talking with a friend about gratitude and how blessings hide within hardships. She told me that she so very much agreed. I commented on her beautiful smile, how she seemed to radiate happiness and confidence and well being and she said, "It's all in the attitude." How very true that is and what a blessing it was to meet that stranger whose name I still don't know. If she can face such hardship with that much positivity, I think I can deal with my minor problems with a bit more joy and enthusiasm. I also think that I will reconsider my hermit ways if this woman is so determined not to let this disease beat her that she will venture out stooped when she can't walk and hold her head high and proud when she can. My nephew came up toward the end of my conversation with her. I introduced her to him and my sister, his grandmother, who followed him. As the lady walked away, my nephew, in a typical, slightly snide, teenage way, said, "You always start up conversations with weird people." I responded, "She wasn't weird. That is an extremely nice lady." I wish I had elaborated on just how special she was but we would have been there all day.

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