“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart
One day you wake up and you think — this is it. This is my one and only life.
I don’t know what causes that to happen. It may be as traumatic as the death of a spouse or a diagnosis of cancer. Or it may be something as simple as the unexpected ache in your back or knees, reminding you that you are aging and nothing lasts forever, especially your body.
Whatever the cause, the thought is startling, like your breath snatched from your lungs in a stiff, cold wind.
You may have dallied with the thought of the time left you on this planet, but chances are you lost it in the deadlines of life. Or in denial. But then there it is. Persistent. Defining. And the realization sinks in and chills your soul.
Most of us pull the covers over our head and tell it to go away. We don’t want to look at our own finiteness. We don’t want to have to ask the hard questions. Besides, who has the time to lead the “examined” life?
Isn’t it bad enough that we have to wake early each morning and face rush hour traffic, a sink full of dirty dishes, a desk piled with work and bills, that we have to listen to news filled with murders, wars and terrorist attacks.
Who has time to contemplate his or her “one and only life?” This is it. The bills. The job. The extra 20 pounds.
Still, the nagging thought persists. We want our lives to count for something. So what do we do with this realization when it pricks us? Or do we need to do anything at all?
Perhaps we first need to see it as a gift. We can take this realization of our limited nature and celebrate it. This gift of awareness, if we have the courage to truly look at it, has much to tell us about how we choose to spend the rest of our lives. It is the “wake up call” prodding us to “do the thing we think we cannot do” as Eleanor Roosevelt said.
But exactly what is that thing? Is it writing our best-selling novel? Climbing a high mountain? Working with the poor in India? Some may do those things. But chances are, most of us will do none of them. We will get up each morning, wash, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, get the children off to school, go to work. Over and over and over again.
So if this is our one and only life, and this is it — the mundane and routine — how can this possibly be a gift?
Through choice. It is the lens through which we view those hum-drum moments of our lives, either blurring them with dislike and boredom or clarifying them with appreciation and love. But it takes courage.
Choosing to take our lives and celebrate the little moments is not for the faint hearted. For who among us wants to appreciate driving in rush hour traffic on a rainy Monday morning? Or who wants to be grateful for sitting through another boring business meeting?
None of us, I imagine. But I believe it is possible. It takes practice to adopt a different mind set and to see life in a “new” way. It takes appreciation and gratitude. And acceptance. Believe me, these are no easy tasks.
And they begin with simple steps. Perhaps thankfulness for a job when so many today are unemployed. Gratefulness for children when many are unable to have children. A safe home when so many people today are displaced from their countries. Appreciation for legs and feet when many are in wheelchairs.
Pollyana-ish? Perhaps. But there’s nothing wrong with being a Pollyana. It is in choosing to take the ordinary of life and transforming it with love and gratitude that we transform and elevate the average into the awesome, the banal into bliss. The little moments count, whether it’s stuck in line at the bank or grocery store, or sitting with a loved one on the front porch on a summer night, watching the fireflies dance in twilight.
In her poem The Summer Day poet Mary Oliver dares us to savor our lives and not take a minute of it for granted. In her walk through a meadow and her encounter with a grasshopper, she sees the fleeting nature of life and accepts the goodness of all that is given her in that moment.
She questions if she shouldn’t be doing something else on that summer’s day, but then asks, what else should she be doing except kneeling down into the tall grass and savoring the day.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In my own life, I’m still answering that question. I believe my writing is part of it. But perhaps there’s more. I don’t know yet. What I do know is that when I open my heart in gratitude to all that is before me in a day, the burdens of life are lightened. I even discover pockets of joy.
But some days, I falter. I’m always learning. As I said before, gratitude for all that is given us is not for the faint hearted. But if we are not thankful for each and every second of our lives — what then? Tell me. What then?