Raking Leaves and a Lesson in Gratitude

I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, especially during the fall. I consider myself to be luckier than most because I am within walking distance of the towpath along the Delaware Canal. The weather this fall has been spectacular and the colors have seemed more vibrant than ever before.

fall colors along the towpath

There is a small price to be paid for living in an area with so many beautiful trees, and that price comes in the form of leaf blowing and raking – honestly not two of my favorite chores. I’d much rather walk along the towpath and admire the brilliant colors than round them up into large piles on the side of the street.

However, it’s a task that must be done and this year it was up to me to complete it on my own.

In spite of the beautiful weather, I can’t say that I approached my first round of leaf blowing and raking with enthusiasm. If anything, I found my mood darkening with passing moment and I let myself slip into the dangerous and unproductive “woe is me” frame of mind.

Somehow the piles of leaves started to represent unfulfilled dreams and insurmountable challenges.

round 3

Just as I was thinking about how I wished my life was easier and that I shouldn’t have to spend my time blowing leaves, I made eye contact with a man with a profound limp passing by my house.

He waved to me with the stump of a hand and a smile.

I waved back, feeling selfish and spoiled.

I’d have to guess that he would have given anything to be in my shoes and here I was feeling sorry for myself. My state of mind shifted and my thoughts became focused on being grateful for being physically able to rake, for the beautiful home I live in and for my wonderful circle of family and friends.

It’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important in life and sometimes we need to be reminded. I’ve never seen this man before and it’s unlikely I’ll see him again, but he made a lasting impression and taught me a valuable lesson in gratitude and keeping things in perspective.

A Humbling Lesson in Gratitude

I had a most humbling and emotional lesson in gratitude a few days ago. The past few weeks I’ve been impatient and feeling frustrated and discouraged about some of the things that are happening (or not happening) in my life. I’ve tried to be grateful for what I have, but frankly feelings of gratitude have escaped me and I’ve been feeling more like “why me?” than “wow I am so fortunate.”

Tuesday evening after finishing my work day, I drove to my chiropractor’s office for my weekly appointment and then stopped at the grocery store to buy chicken broth so I could make myself a simple but healthy meal of quinoa, chicken and salad.

As I entered the parking lot of the grocery store, a young man holding a sign that said: “Kindness requested, we need money for food and gas. God Bless.” caught my eye. More so, the hopeless look on the face of the young man and his wife as they tried to let their small young girls play but somehow keep them safe in the parking lot gripped my heart.

The license plate on the well traveled green Odyssey van was from Texas.

I couldn’t shake the image of this young family while I was shopping. My guess is that they were in pursuit of a better life for their family and met with adversity along the way.

While checking out, I hit the “yes I want cash back” button.

$20 isn’t going to get them far, but maybe it will help a little. They were both so grateful. I only wished that I’d been able to help them more.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I drove past them and they waved and smiled with gratitude.

Yes, I am humbled and I am grateful for all of my blessings. I’m going to try not to forget them going forward.

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Author’s note:

This experience affected me deeply and has served as a reminder of many things like the power of forgiveness and also that there is no shame in asking for or accepting a helping hand. It’s also prompted a lot of reflection about life and how difficult it can be to remember that we each have a purpose in life and that the difficulties we experience can serve us in a positive if we choose to let them.

It’s sometimes – ok, well often-times hard to figure out what that purpose is, but I really believe that we do each contribute to the greater good in our own unique way.

Sometimes along life’s path we encounter relationships or experiences that don’t just hurt, they consume us with feelings of injustice, unfairness, rejection and isolation.

We have a choice about these experiences, one that we may not often consider. And that is to find a way to turn the things in our lives that are the most damaging and the most hurtful into our greatest teachers.

Gratitude

The day is nearly done but my mind isn’t slowing down. Wearing a sweatshirt I borrowed from my son, I’m planted in front of the fireplace enjoying the softness of the fleece against my skin and the way the flames both warm and brighten the room.

Surrounded by comfort, I’m acutely aware of just how close any of us might be to losing our comfortable lifestyle and being forced to alter the way we live in unimaginable ways. There is a very fine line between security and desperation, between confidence and defeat.

We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like everything is going in the wrong direction and you can’t turn around without facing another obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. Then, when you least expect it all of the pieces fall into place and both the present and the future are bright and beautiful.

2014 will go down in history as being one of the more challenging years of my life. Things got off to a rough start. I can’t say it was much fun to experience the major winter storms, a terrifying blow out on the interstate, three separate power outages, multiple nights without power, more than a few unexpected (and expensive car repairs), and last but not least a pair of broken eye glasses.

It would be an understatement to say I was less than positive after the long winter, I was downright depressed. I’m affected by seasonal depression and this year the state of sadness lingered well into the spring and even the summer sunshine wasn’t enough to lift my spirits completely.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most everyone who has started their own business has encountered at least one if not more really rough patch. A stretch of time that challenges you to the core and makes you wonder if you’ve made the right decisions. This summer was the season that tested my mettle.

It was a season of “hurry up and wait.” Just when I thought something big was going to break loose, it didn’t. Just when I thought nothing else could go wrong, it did. There was nothing easy about it, but I knew there was no choice but to continue putting one foot in front of the other and have faith that if I continued to do the right things ultimately my prayers would be answered.

In addition to having a wonderful support system of family and friends who allowed me to be vulnerable and offered me support without question, my art and writing kept me focused on positive thoughts. I believe my creative outlets provided me a way to overcome doubts and fears and to welcome new ideas and opportunities.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and life through art. It’s not about where you start or even where you finish. It’s how we handle the collection of steps along the way that sometimes feel all wrong but end up leading us to exactly the right outcome.

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I wrote this a few weeks ago and for some reason neglected to share it on my blog. The message is still relevant and my feelings of gratitude have deepened even further.

Also sharing artwork from my journal. I had writer’s block the night before I wrote this – and my entry turned into another flower. (either that or I couldn’t wait to try out my newest set of pens).

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happy flower_new ink pens