Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gratitude for Life's Little Surprises

I began the holiday season with a sense of wonder at three
unexpected little surprises in human nature, which gave me a feeling of hope for the year ahead. The previous year had been hellish, to say the very least, and my family has been praying for better times. The first turn in human nature was my observation of a VTA bus driver calling out to one of our students at Gunn High School as I pulled into the parking lot. The student didn't seem to be responding, and in what seemed to me slow motion, the driver checked his mirror, smiled, and hopped off the bus with the teenager's forgotten backpack in hand. No big deal, right? Unless, like my kids and myself, you've ever left something on a bus, train, plane, never to see it again. This observation of unexpected behavior warmed my heart.

The second experience I had was in skiing at one of my favorite resorts, Solitude, in the Wasatch Mountains with my sister, whom I affectionately refer to as "Martha Stewart," and her husband. For as long as I can remember, "Martha" and I have tried to present ourselves as timelessly fashionable, but in a competition she would easily win. Our mother endowed us with this artistic yet classic style, which can lead us to sometimes "assess" others for their own fashion sense. Rarely complementing but often commenting to ourselves about others (terrible, I know), my big sis jokingly suggested we give scores to those on the ski hill with the best outfits. Since we were skiing at a low-key, locals-only resort we kept striking out at spotting any style at all on the slopes. Until she found him, a pint-sized first grader looking chic and metropolitan in his colorful parka and pants. And then came the surprise. Instead of rating the little man's outfit, my style-maven sis skied up and complemented him, "Hey, did you know you're the best-looking skier at this resort?!" He stared at her befuddled, but I know he won't forget this random act of sweetness from a fellow skier. We can all use more of that--ski hill or not.

The third surprise came when I had loaded up the car, and was starting the long trek back across the hazy Nevada desert to the Bay Area, to resume my several jobs on two high school campuses. I stopped at Chevron in the small town where my daughter's family lives to fill up the tank and get an extra-large soda to keep me awake. Walking into the sparkling station, I saw the attendant sitting on the counter looking rather lazy with his extra-large, skin-colored ear guages. I shuddered in fear at his appearance until approaching the register with my drink. Completely out of character, he motioned me out the door and said, "Happy New Year, the soda's on us!" I looked back at him in amazement, and I could see a more than slightly satisfied grin under his strawberry blonde beard. 

Because we had such a difficult year in 2013, I decided many months prior that the only way to survive would be to keep a gratitude journal. I've written nearly every day about small moments and experiences that lifted my spirits, often catching me off guard like the generous actions of the bus driver, "Martha Stewart," and the ear-guaged gas station attendant. Staying open to these often unnoticed surprises in human nature has allowed me to feel more deeply the joyful experiences as they come throughout the year ahead. We've started off in January by welcoming sweet Evie Mae into the family, and due to my new-found faith in humankind I am more grateful than ever for the safe arrival of a healthy baby girl to my second child's loving family.

Watch for the goodness in others, and make time to jot down the gratitude you feel when you witness any of these simple blessings in your life--even if it's far off in the distance. By striving to see goodness in those around us, family members, friends, even strangers, we can learn to be a little kinder in our trials and the "survival modes" of life. Take a minute to express your gratitude, do a small and/or unexpected favor for someone you do or do not know, give a compliment to a stranger; all of life's injustices melt away as we persevere each day to "do the right thing." 

For Baby Evie Mae and for YOU: How about some inspiration to believe there truly is goodness in this crazy world of ours? Watch Kid President's latest video, "A Letter to a Person on Their First Day Here." 
Need a gentle push to feel hopeful about the world and the people around you? Read "Oh, the Places You'll Go," by Dr. Suess.

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