Growing up, my mom always told me to be grateful, to appreciate life and what I had. I remember being frustrated as a child, for her reminding and scolding me of this, to me, implied that I didn’t. I remember thinking I didn’t know how. How could I? What did she mean? How did a person “appreciate”? Was it an action or a behavior? Was it a way of thinking or a way of being? What was it to appreciate something?
In playing, I didn’t think I could appreciate any more than I did. I didn’t think it was something I could “get better at”. In adulthood, maybe I still don’t know what she meant, but I now have a better understanding of what it means to me.
To appreciate means to be still: To listen with awareness and value my sensory experiences. It means to acknowledge being alive. It means to focus on being alive. Appreciation is something we can learn. It can give us a fuller experience. It is an internal awareness that is often reflected in our behaviors and actions. It is a way of thinking and a way of being. It is the acknowledgment of God and the gift of life. It is the way: A starting point and a base to return to, of a life well-lived. It is for me, anyway.
Life & Death, with a focus on life:
So often we go through life without noticing that we are alive. We go through the motions, day after day, until it takes a tragedy to remind us that we are alive. A loved one passes. A teenager dies in a motor vehicle accident. A natural disaster takes millions of lives. Only then, do we reflect on the beauty of being alive. Only then, do we slow down the pace, contemplate, and give thanks that we are alive.
When my uncle John died, we celebrated his life and came together with our family at his Missouri farm home. Across from his place was an old graveyard. I found solace there and wondered what it was like for my cousins to grow up next to a constant reminder of death. In honor of my uncle John and my reflections that day in the old graveyard, I tattooed a dead tree on the front of my leg. To me, this would serve as my daily reminder that I am alive. And it did, for a while. And, like anything else, our memories quickly fade, and it simply returned to a leg I shave every day.
This is the appreciation my mom was talking about that so quickly leaves us without our intentional focus and practice. The newness of a lesson wears off, and perhaps this is just a normal state of human functioning. But I want something better than that! I want to live in gratitude and appreciation of my life. I want to savor the bright undercolors of a red-winged black bird as he flies over. I want to know the sun and the rain, the sadness and the pain, the joys and the essence of being alive! And that is why… And that is why … That is my why.