Reflections on Simplicity: The Power of Gratitude by Carolyn Berry
It is late spring in Salem, where I have lived 96 seasons, more than 312 cycles of the moon. ("That's 168 dog years," my husband jokingly reminds me!) I arrived as a child in a woman's body, barely 17, migrating alone to the Willamette Valley to pursue higher education.
I left several generations of my family behind in the high desert of Southern Idaho. I also left a bio-region marked by ancient lava flows, sagebrush, dust devils, thunderstorms, coyotes, jackrabbits, and rattlesnakes to study music here, in forested hillsides with bubbling springs, wild blackberries, rhododendron, gray squirrels, deer, blue jays, and ... yes ... slugs. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," I felt like I had been transported by some enormous force from a bland, Kansas-like existence to the miraculous Technicolor of Munchkinland.
Spring is the time of year when the locals in Salem say, "Don't like the weather? Wait ten minutes." One minute the sky pours out torrents of rain, the next it becomes a canopy of sun-filled blue, and finally it pelts the earth with hail. The payoff is a remarkably lush, verdant land with countless shades of green and spring colors so brilliant in the sun after spring rain that your eyes ache.
It was during a break in the rain this morning that I mowed my sun-drenched lawn. I intentionally decided to find more to be grateful for in this task than merely the window of rainless sky that allowed me to crop the level of the lawn back to a respectable length.
As I mowed, I paid attention. Simply paying attention is the first and perhaps most essential element in experiencing gratitude. It is an art of childhood lost by most of us. Cell phones in the car keep us from paying attention while we drive. The television keeps us from paying attention to our families. We rarely pay attention to how we mistreat our bodies or excessively spend and waste. We are so distracted by things we don't like about our lives that we rarely pay attention to our role in making them that way. And, we get so absorbed in acquiring tangible "stuff" in our lives that we miss the simple blessings of the intangibles.
So, as I mowed my lawn this morning, I paid careful attention to my body, my thoughts, the process of mowing, the markers of spring, and to the world around me. As a result, I experienced the transforming power of gratitude.
I am grateful for our push mower. Its gentle "whirrrrrr" of blades spinning to crop the grass reminds me of a contented cat. I remember the day my husband and I chose this very mower. It was a happy decision because it was one more way to make our lives match our evolving values. This memory made me grateful for the ability to choose and for optional styles of mowers.
I then paid attention to my heart and muscles, and became grateful for what mowing was doing for them. In my quest to reduce my need for income, I had given up my private health club membership, deciding to get my workouts from everyday life activities. I was part of the fitness movement for almost 15 years. While I don't miss health club dynamics much, I do miss the intensity of those great step aerobic/free weight workouts. For the moment, though, I chose to dwell on the joy of letting my push mower lead me to fitness.
The process of mowing made me grateful for my own physical strength and mobility. I am thankful for my body's ability to cool me through perspiration and for the billions of dermal nerve endings that enable me to feel the tickle of that perspiration as it runs down my temples and the nape of my neck.
The wonderful fragrance of just-cut grass made me grateful for my sense of smell. It transported me over hundreds of miles and back several decades to my grand-daddy's farm in Idaho. His lawn covered an entire acre, and the smell of it freshly mowed was an aromatic delight to me. My grand-daddy has been gone for 13 years. His first great-grandson and namesake, my son Andrew, was born only weeks after his death. I'm grateful for my grand-daddy's legacy in my life, and for the chance to feel touched by him this morning-to remember that I am the granddaughter of Andy and Carrie Halverson, who lived much of their lives on a small farm near Kimberly, Idaho.
As I was deep in sweet Idaho memories, a small white pick-up pulled over to the curb across the street, motor running. I had met the man behind the wheel last fall on an evening walk with my husband and daughter. As he painted his porch, we had stopped briefly to admire his work, his home, and his cat.
"Looks like hard work, he yelled.
"Yes, it really is!" I answered.
"Didn't I meet you when you and your family were on a walk?" he asked.
I walked across the street and stood at his pickup window. "Why, yes you did. Great memory!" I said. "You live in that wonderful old house a half block down on the right, and you have a terrific cat! Doesn't your wife work at the coffee house down on Court Street?"
He caught me up on current feline antics in his household, as well as his wife's job change.
"Say, why don't I bring over my power mower for you to use. It would sure be easier than mowing that tall grass with an old push mower. That must be exhausting!"
"Thanks, but you know, I'm really fine finishing the job with this push mower. It replaces the exercise I miss since I gave up my health club membership. Plus, it's quiet and eliminates the emissions of one more gas-powered mower."
"Ouch! Hadn't thought of that," he said. "More power to you! Ha-ha. No pun intended."
Then he told me about a program at the YMCA, where he works, that offers memberships in exchange for regular volunteer hours. This was certainly most serendipitous, since I'd been contemplating how we could work out a family membership at the "Y" for some weeks now. It is within walking distance of our home, and there are great activities for teenagers. Magically, mowing the lawn had led me to a possible solution to an issue already on my mind.
As my neighbor drove away, I was filled with a new sense of gratitude. I was thankful for a neighbor who took the initiative and time to offer his help with my lawn, happy to live in a neighborhood where many folks know each other, and appreciative of the new "currency" that is springing forth in America-a currency that places value on the efforts of volunteers and recognizes them in tangible ways. Membership in exchange for volunteer hours? Yes!
As I raked the freshly mown grass into piles, then picked them up and placed them in our compost bin, I was grateful for the ability to bend and touch the Earth. I was thankful for the simple cycles of nature that create rich, dark compost from the greens of our grass clippings mixed with browns of fall leaves and organic refuse from our kitchen.
I was also grateful-and surprised-to see that the sugar snap peas I planted several weeks ago had begun sprouting. I realized I had unrealistically expected to see sprouts before now and had actually started thinking that I'd been sold bad seeds! There I was, attempting to rush a natural process instead of letting the seeds sprout in their own time and genetic coding. I laughed at my microwave mentality and recalled the quote, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."
My work in the yard is finished for today, but the results of my gratitude for it continue. I feel good, focused, helped, inspired, and satisfied. The moments didn't slip by. I lived them. I'm grateful.
Carolyn Berry lives with her family in Salem Oregon. Author of the journal "Seasons of Gratitude," Carolyn is a multi-faceted speaker and presenter with a passion for teaching workshops on life simplification and authenticity. She can be reached at 391-1922.