My road to riches

It’s easy to make January 1 a day of reflection and reassessment. We always think of it in terms of joining a gym, trying to stay in touch with friends, or traveling more in the coming year. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, another opportunity to reflect on who and what we have.

Thanks to a deep vein of attention deficit disorder, to me every day is a combination of New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving. I’m constantly reassessing, looking for new opportunities, turning over more leaves than a landscaping crew. Enriching my skipping from one activity to another is gratitude, a recent theme.  Rather than mindlessly charging into activities, the presence of gratitude has changed every run or bike or paddle, and every sunset, every kiss, every colorful flower I see.

Before you wonder if I’ve been consuming wild mushrooms, read on.

It all started last spring when I was in a hotel room in Hoboken, looking forward to a day of exploring Manhattan by myself on my old bike, following my whims and my wheels around the city. That’s when I learned that my first childhood friend, Scott, had been killed in a car accident.

I hadn’t thought of Scott much in years, hadn’t seen him in a long time. So it’s a little twisted to think of him now nearly every day. But he was taken unexpectedly in an accident on a familiar road near his home, leaving daughters about the same ages as mine. At his wake it took hours to get through the line to his wife and parents next to his casket, and I passed the time chatting with “kids” we’d grown up with, played touch football, street hockey and truth-or-dare with.

It took months for the reality to settle in that someone healthy, my age, and absolutely treasured by a loving family could be snatched from life. Somehow that horror mellowed into gratitude that has become part of my everyday thinking.

Now when I’m out on a trail and have to stop and spend a minute enjoying the way the light is filtering through the leaves or a bright bloom of color on a plant, I think of him. I think of Scott when I’m alone on the water, just enjoying the rhythm of my paddle and the ripples alongside the bow of my board. When my daughters smile or laugh it has new meaning to me.

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That day in New York was all about remembering him and the way we played together as kids. I pedaled for miles, lost in memories of the years he and I spent together. He had an uncanny ability to imitate old style police sirens, so we always had to play Adam-12 on our bikes, up and down the street, investigating “break-ins” by the mailboxes and pretending the space under the neighbor’s forsythia bushes was the squad headquarters. We built forts in the woods, played endless games of street hockey and basketball, got jobs at the same place when we were 14.

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At his wake I learned that he and his family had rented a house every summer in Edgartown, overlooking the area where my family frequently anchored our boat. We worked in the same industry. He had just taken his oldest to visit his alma mater, the college where my youngest are now freshmen. We might have passed each other on the street many times, shuttling our daughters to practices and to visit our parents.

Instead of a greedy pursuit of my “bucket list” items, bagging peaks or charging down a trail without taking time to look around at the beauty there, I am now proceeding through every day with gratitude. Life is precious. I plan to enjoy every moment, every opportunity, every beautiful vista I have left to see.

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