A Sudden Surge of Gratitude

gratitude-sunsetToday I was overtaken by another of those I- can’t-believe-I-am-lucky-enough-to-be-leading-this-life moments. These mini-epiphanies have been erupting periodically ever since I retired a year-and-a-half ago. This one came as I finished my lunch (a veggie sub unlike any other I’ve ever found anywhere else, in a restaurant conveniently located in my neighborhood).

As is my usual procedure when eating alone (which is most of the time, and at restaurants as often as at home), I had been reading while I ate.

I’d taken along to lunch with me a book I’ve been reading off and on since before Christmas. I’m often in the midst of reading several books at once, and finish reading most books within a few weeks of starting them. Apparently other books had distracted me from finishing the one I’d taken with me to lunch today. In fact, I had reluctantly picked up again this book only recently, having found the first part of it rather unsatisfying for some reason, despite the fame of its author and despite its theme – one of my perennial faves, gardening. I found the author’s style mildly annoying, and, out of habit, was forcing myself to finish her book anyway. But a few days ago, when I had plucked it again off my shelf of currently-being-read books located next to the spot on the loveseat in my living room where I normally sit to read (when I’m not reading during meals), I found the author’s prose suddenly more interesting. By lunchtime today I’d advanced to the final third of the book, and I was completely happy with her (rather idiosyncratic) style, and looking forward to reading the rest of it, even dreading its fast-approaching end.

At any rate, as I temporarily closed my book to leave the restaurant (wanting to get home before the thunderstorm I’d overheard a customer mentioning to the cashier was due in about an hour), a feeling of well-being abruptly washed over me. I am so lucky, said I to myself: here I am, again, eating in this restaurant that I’m so glad is part of my neighborhood; I can afford to eat here, and not only today, but as often as I like (and despite the fact that I’ve planned to eat out again tomorrow, elsewhere, with friends). The sandwich I ordered was as good as I’d expected (on my way to this restaurant, I’d toyed with the idea of eating instead at an Indian restaurant across the street – another lucky circumstance, having a good Indian restaurant in one’s neighborhood).

My neighborhood is a wonderful neighborhood to live in for all sorts of reasons, and I have been enjoying living in it for not just a few years now but for several decades – and cannot think of why I might ever want to leave it – something not everyone has the luxury of feeling. But usually I take for granted where I live; I forget how happy I am to be living in it, and to have always lived, as an adult, in or near it.

This recollection of my good fortune cascaded into a litany of several other reasons to feel grateful for my life, even if my life is not exactly how I’d like it to be arranged.

I then began to wonder:

  • Would I ever tire of this neighborhood, tire of finding good books to read, tire of the leisure I now have to read whenever and for as long as I like?
  • Would I tire of the several spots (besides restaurants when I’m eating alone) that I especially like to read in (the loveseat in the living room, the chair on the sun porch)?
  • Would I eventually get tired of living in the house I still love after living in it for 20 years, and still love tinkering with, striving to make it even more comfortable and congenial for me and my visitors?
  • Would I become weary of my interludes at the mountain cabin that I drive to or am driven to so often, and have been lucky enough to have spent time in almost every month for not just a few years but for fifteen springs, fifteen summers, fifteen winters, and (probably best of all) fifteen autumns?
  • Would I ever tire any or all of my hobbies other than reading: gardening, perfecting my amateur calligraphy skills, traveling?

It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the appeal of one or more of these pastimes would eventually wear thin, or at least wear thinner. But since each of them is rather self-renewing (an almost infinite number of new books, new plants, new places to explore), it seems unlikely…as long as my good health (yet another reason for gratitude) holds out.

Sometimes my feelings of gratitude are quickly followed by flashes of the “impostor syndrome,” and these thoughts crowded in on me again today:

  • Who am I to be so lucky that I can arrange most of my days to suit me, can come and go without anyone’s permission, can change my mind or my plans to suit my (mere) mood-of-the-moment?
  • Who am I to deserve a retirement income that can support what feels like an endless vacation?
  • When will The Authorities discover how unfettered and unburdened by obligations of any kind I have felt for the past 1.5 years, blithely choosing which of the various and mostly optional domestic chores I shall do (or ignore), happily walking back and forth a dozen times a day to my newish garden shed to putter around out there first with this little project, then to putter for a few more minutes – or for a few hours, perhaps – with some other chore, then abruptly deciding it’s gotten way too warm to do anything but duck back into my miraculously air-conditioned house?

Surely (goes my imagination) The Authorities will one day drag me kicking and screaming back to wage slavery, to which so many of my friends are still beholden – and many of those friends not as lucky as I was in my line of work, which I happened to have loved (though never knew, till I left that job, the toll on me my job’s less delightful aspects were taking on my energy and optimism).

Also sometimes accompanying my recurring bouts of gratitude, including today’s, comes a hesitation to exult in or express my good fortune, fearing that others not so lucky will despise me for my good fortune, or judge me to be too self-indulgent or indifferent to what I might be doing (besides being content a lot of the time) to alleviate some of the suffering in this world beyond my tediously-described enchanted doorstep. So not too often or too widely do I publicize my bliss (this blogpost being an exception to that rule). To any would-be despisers, all I can say is that, although I find much in this part of my life to be grateful for, I do not lead what one calls a charmed life. My longtime friends could tell you my life has been visited by sorrow, and I expect it to be visited by my share of sorrow again, not to mention minor termporary havocs and difficulties – and not just “First World” types of troubles, either.

But whatever I should be feeling, or might be feeling (or might be feeling or coping with tomorrow), what I am feeling today is very lucky and mostly happy:

  • Happy to have had the time this morning to sit longer than usual with my next door neighbor’s cat who (as usual) came round to visit as I was unlocking the garden shed for the day. Her visit postponed slightly (and delightfully) my morning mini-walk around the block in the aforementioned congenial neighborhood, during which I stopped briefly on the sidewalk to the tennis court in the nearby park (!) to run through the tai chi routine that my excellent instructors (at their studio also located in my neighborhood instead of somewhere clear across town) have spent four years teaching me how to do more correctly and mindfully.
  • Happy to have made, a bit later this morning, more progress clearing off the floor of the screened-in section of the garden shed the mounds of gardenish bric-a-brac I’ve been storing there, and even happier to discover perfect, permanent places for several of those items.
  • Happy to have spent the previous weekend at the cabin with four sweet gay men (only one of whom who’d been there before), and looking forward to seeing two of these guys again, here in town, later this month.
  • Happy to have friends who enjoy getting together from time to time, as we are planning to do tomorrow, to take in a (senior-discounted!) movie, preceded by lunch at yet another favorite restaurant in a neighborhood not too far from mine, one that I can get to via a scooter route pleasant to traverse.
  • Happy to have several of my friendships be of many decades’ duration, and optimistic at the prospect of meeting new friends (and happy about having had that very experience twice within the past month).
  • Happy to be able to afford so many amenities-bordering-on-miracles, such as air conditioning, an Internet connection, a mortgage I can afford on a house I love in a neighborhood I find so congenial.
  • Happy to have eyesight still good enough for lots of reading, and such great stuff to read (including, this morning, an incredibly well-written and completely convincing anti-theistic tract written by a Christian monk in 1729).
  • Fortunate enough to be able to afford not only reliable transportation for my local pursuits but also the wherewithal (financial and psychological) for occasional travel abroad.
  • Happy to be blessed with a family of loving, functional people.
  • Happy for not being sorry that I retired from my full-time job, and happy, too, that the job that I had was, for many years, a job I was happy to have.
  • Happy for what has been, thus far, a remarkably extended period of retirement unencumbered by financial or familial burdens.

Sure, I could register several complaints about my present circumstances. But to list the current imbalances or imperfections of my life seems a bit beside the point today. That exercise can wait for some other, less lucky-feeling time.

I don’t know why this feeling of gratitude chose to visit me this particular day. Perhaps it was due to my reading earlier today (via a Facebook posting) this excellently-written Momastery blogpost? Whatever the reason, I am happy these feelings came and stayed a while.

Postscript: Several hours after writing this blogpost, but while still in my glass-half-full-instead-of-half-empty mood, I hopped in my truck to come home after getting a haircut and my truck wouldn’t start. Instead of flipping instantly into a tailspin of frustraton, I remember feeling lucky that I had paid for free towing services as part of my truck insurance, and that my mechanic, to which I had my truck towed, is – like so much else – located in my neighborhood. How many people are fortunate enough to be within walking distance of not only of a park and a lot of beautiful homes and a small grocery store and several decent restaurants – and a mere scooter ride away from a post office and a health food store – but also within walking distance of their vehicle mechanic’s shop? (Then there’s the not-quite-minor additional fact that my temporarily-disabled vehicle is bought and paid for.)

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An Unexpected Musical Treat

After having supper together last night, my friend Franklin Abbott told me he was treating me to an after-dinner surprise. As we climbed into Franklin’s car, I didn’t find out until we parked it a few minutes later where we were going: to a performance at the nearby Variety Playhouse.

The line waiting outside was long and distinctly non-young, but I didn’t learn until we got into the theater who we’d come to hear. Making our way through the packed house, we miraculously located two seats gratifying close to a beautifully lit stage, furnished only with a grand piano. Eventually, onto that stage steps one of the most iconic and beloved singer/songwriter legends of Franklin’s and my youth, Judy Collins.

Judy Collins Album CoverNow an astonishing 74 years old, Collins’ voice remains as gloriously pure and mesmerizing as I remembered her from the still-vivid soundtrack of our college days. The album I’d bought in 1968, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, has been stored in my attic for the past 20 years, and is surely unplayable by now, just like all the other albums from those fondly-remembered times. After last night, I am going to need to buy the CD version of Time Goes so I can listen to That Voice more often.

Like the deeply imprinted voices of Joan Baez, Laura Nyro, Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel and so many other talented singers and songwriters from that era, the sheer quality of Judy Collins’ voice and the excellence of her lyrics (either hers or the songs written by others that she chooses to sing) always stop me in my tracks. Listening to her again all these years later makes me grateful to have been young in the 1960s, as my life then included the wonderful music she made. Although I also regard myself as fortunate in terms of the dance music being played during my dancing days, the music of Collins, Baez, et al. were songs to listen to rather than to dance to: rich with poignancy and/or politics, songs whose lyrics not only helped form some of my core values but would stick in my memory the rest of my life.

It would be very difficult to describe the particular qualities of Collins’ voice to someone who’s never heard Collins sing. However that voice is described, there’s no disputing its ethereal, crystalline beauty. Just how gorgeous is that voice? Well, one measure of its caliber is that Collins’ renditions of “Amazing Grace” are the only versions of  that ubiquitous hymn that I can listen to with actual pleasure.

This morning I extended the aural treat of last night’s concert by poking around the Intertubes for more about Ms. Collins and her career. Along with the biographical information in the Wikipedia article, I found snippets of various interviews and segments of various live performances, tons of wonderful photos of this beautiful woman, and, best of all, copies of her most well-known recordings (here and here and here).

A well-spent Saturday morning…not to mention a memorable Friday evening. Thank you, dear Franklin!