One of the recurring themes in this blog is gratitude. I write about this topic so often because I genuinely believe that attitude is everything. I think that even in our darkest hours, there are things to appreciate if you look hard enough. Even bitter lessons are worthy of gratitude because they help you grow and survive.
There is so much in this world that we take for granted. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and taking a breath and appreciating the sun on your face and the wind in the trees. It’s such a gift to be alive and able to think and reason and exercise free will and create beauty and give and receive love.
I think the unhappiest people are those who focus on the negative in their lives. They may be unhappy because of their negative focus, or negative experiences may have made them unhappy, but either way, until that cycle is broken, nothing will change. It makes me sad to see people trapped in that way.
I’m not saying we should all wander around like Stepford Wives. And yes, bad things happen to us all. It’s just that the way you frame things matters. It takes practice. Some days will be a lot harder than others. But there’s good out there, if you only look.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s fast approaching. I wish we didn’t need a holiday to remember to give thanks. I think gratitude should be part of our daily lives.
I feel so strongly about this topic that I published an anthology of my essays on gratitude. It’s called A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. I’m really proud of it. I think it would make a great Thanksgiving gift, or, for that matter, a gift any time of the year for a loved one who could use a little positivity. And can’t we all use some of that? Think about it.
As always, I’m grateful that you take the time to read my blog. As a little bonus, below is one of the short and to the point essays that you can find in the book. This one was originally posted on this blog on November 29, 2015.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my rib cage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.
I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.
But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.
In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
On our cruise to Alaska, we were some of the youngest passengers aboard, by decades. I get it. It’s an expensive trip. It’s the trip of a lifetime. But there’s something to be said about doing your major trips while you’re still able-minded and able-bodied.
We often shared a dinner table with strangers, as is often the case on cruise ships. Some were a delight. But most were complaining about being in pain. Or about not liking the food. Or about the ship rocking. Or about their ungrateful grandchildren. Or about feeling trapped. Or about the cost of things. You name it, they complained about it.
We were having a wonderful time, so listening to these people grouse was, to be honest, annoying. It did make us grateful that we are not yet in pain, or plagued with digestive issues or the like. It made us try harder to be patient when caught in the middle of the migration of these waddling grey penguins. Our time will come soon enough.
But jeez. Why take a trip if you know it’s going to make you miserable? Eat your salad during your salad days. Or, if this is your only chance to travel, at the very least, don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.
Okay, so I guess this is me complaining. But you get the point.
Every time we learn something new about the natural world, it makes me realize just how little we know. Given that fact, it’s awfully arrogant of us to act so superior and proprietary. How can we walk through this world with such confidence and act upon it with such haughty indifference when we don’t really have a clue as to what’s going on beyond our ken or how our actions impact said goings on?
It seems that thanks to some voice recognition software, researchers have determined that bats not only speak to each other as individuals, using different tones of voice, but they also have matched up certain sounds to certain actions. Predictably, they argue about food and their positions within the sleeping cluster, and invasions of personal space. But they also discuss males that make unwanted mating advances. In other words, they’re not all that different from us.
I hadn’t thought of this in years. When I was young, I had what I called a security blanket. It was flannel. Cozy. I couldn’t sleep without it.
I kept it to an embarrassingly old age. Into my early teens. I also watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. Comfort and security was hard to come by in my household. In fact, the inmates were pretty much running the asylum. So I clung to my security blanket until it was a ripped up rag.
Then one day my mother threw it out. And I fished it right back out of the trash. I’ve always thought it was extremely arrogant and insensitive of parents to rip comfort objects out of the arms of a child. The world is harsh enough as it is without that foolishness. Rest assured that most children will learn that the world is cruel soon enough without you providing a demonstration.
I never really got rid of that blanket. It just sort of disintegrated one day. By then I had outgrown it anyway. I was just clinging to it to prove that there was something in this life over which I had control. Ah, well. So ends a delusion.
Now, after 13 years of working graveyard shifts, I’ve gotten in the habit of having something covering my eyes when I sleep. I still do this even though I now have the luxury of sleeping in the darkness again, and have done so for many years. I was positioning that cover just so last night when I thought of that security blanket.
Perhaps I never really gave it up after all. I just replaced it with something else.
While riding a train through the town of Talkeetna, Alaska, I looked toward the horizon to see what is perhaps the most unusual structure on earth. Formally, it’s called the Goose Creek Tower, but most folks call it the Dr. Seuss House, despite the fact that the good doctor never gave his permission for the name. Even so, the name suits it.
Basically, it’s an Alaskan cabin that got out of control. The owner kept building and building and building, ever upward, for an ever better view, and now the tower, according to the website, is 57 meters tall. It would probably have been taller, but right now it’s just 1 meter below federally regulated airspace.
It is said you can see for 300 miles from the topmost balcony, but I wouldn’t recommend it at this point. No railings yet. Also, no windows, no electricity, no heating, and no plumbing. The upper floors lack staircases and are only accessible by ladder. Needless to say, it’s not currently inhabited. Unfortunately it often gets visited by vandals.
I hope that someday this amazing structure is completed by Mr. Paul, the owner, designer, lawyer, poet, and character with a very unique imagination. The world is a much more delightful place with this structure in it. We need whimsy, now more than ever.
If, like me, you are an introvert, welcome to the American minority. As such, you probably can relate to being treated as if you are strange or broken. You’re considered antisocial. You are expected to explain yourself. You don’t fit in.
You have probably been accused of being depressed, even when that isn’t necessarily so. Introversion does not always equate to unhappiness. The phrase “social anxiety” gets bandied about by your critics. It’s not an anxiety so much as a preference. You are often misunderstood.
Believe me, I get it. I am so sick of being treated like I’m somehow less than, simply by dint of my position on the Introversion/Extroversion bell curve. I genuinely believe that we all have our place, and every place has value.
Introversion simply means that people suck energy from you, as opposed to energizing you. But why is that description couched in that way? Why does no one say that extroverts need energy from outside themselves, while introverts are much more self-sufficient? Why does no one say that introverts thrive in the quiet beauty of isolation? Why are we not praised for our focus and depth?
And no two people are alike. I wish that were more understood. Just as with gender, it’s about time we figured out that this is not a binary situation. For example, I personally don’t dislike people, even though introverts are often accused of hating mankind in general. I just prefer interacting with small groups that I know well, as opposed to large crowds of strangers. I don’t consider myself to be shy. I have no trouble speaking up or asking questions. I just don’t feel the need to constantly put myself out there. I enjoy observing more than interacting.
And I love time alone, which means my job as a bridgetender is perfect for me. Extroverts don’t last in this job. They just can’t handle it. There really are places for us “quiet types”. They’re just sometimes a bit harder to find.
As a child I was constantly berated because I wasn’t making enough friends. I have friends. But I go for quality, not quantity. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think it’s cruel to make an introverted child feel as though there’s some score card that is not up to snuff, simply because that child has a richer inner life, and that’s hard for you to see. We don’t need to be fixed. We are fine just the way we are.
There is no shame in thinking of alone time as a gift. It’s not rejection. It’s not a mental illness. You are still capable of love, loyalty, and friendship. And so much more.
I think that the only time we introverts feel free and well-adjusted is when we stop caring what other people think. Unfortunately, those other people are still out there, thinking, and loudly shaping society. The world would be a much nicer place if people learned to listen to the quieter voices as well. We, too, have our stories.
I’ve written about my love for this country’s national parks before. Travel is my reason for being, and I adore all things natural and historical, so national parks are right in my wheelhouse. I wish I could see every single one of them at least once.
In light of that, I purchased a National Parks Passport years ago, and have filled it with stamps every time I visit a park. It looks like a thick passport, but it also includes a National Park System Map and Guide, as well as spaces for stamps and stickers divided up by region, and pictures and descriptions of the various parks. I could gaze at this passport for hours.
Each stamp, with its unique design and the date I acquired it, brings me right back in my mind to the park I visited. They remind me of things I’ve learned, and the many stories I have to tell. Because of that, these stamps are more precious to me than any overpriced souvenir.
I remember weaving through the autumn leaves on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I’m still convinced my soul resides. I have traveled back in time in the many national monuments that preserve the buildings of the ancient Anasazi in New Mexico. I have been places where one single word evokes imagery that’s nearly impossible to describe. Yellowstone. Badlands. Canyonlands. Arches. Rushmore. I’ve gloried at the colors of the Painted Desert, cried with joy while gazing at the Grand Canyon, been inspired by the human determination exhibited in both Gold Rush National Parks. I’ve admired the interior of the White House in much less complicated times.
If you love the parks as much as I do, I urge you to get a National Parks Passport and fill it with stamps. They also make great gifts! I gave one to my sister, and now we have a hot and heavy competition going on. (Guess what, Sis! I got a stamp from Glacier Bay, a national park that you can only reach by boat or plane! Neener, neener, neener!)
A word of caution though. NEVER stamp your regular passport with these stamps. It invalidates it. Apparently people have done this to their everlasting regret, so now when you go to the stamp table, which is usually found in the park’s gift shop, you’ll see a big sign warning people not to do that. Sad that that is necessary, but there you have it.
These books are not real passports, but they will transport you to magical places in your mind. That, as far as I’m concerned, is something well worth having in my life.