Recently, my husband and I stepped back in time for a few hours on a date that was both nostalgic and present-affirming. Although most of our fellow date patrons, having a median age of about 60, were probably not affirming the present so much as reliving the past. The date consisted of a matinée movie on an old and rather pixellated projector. It was shown at the local planetarium that has most likely not been updated for decades. They were serving locally brewed beer and classic candy in the lobby as they waited on us to take our seats before starting the movie. And to top it all off, the movie itself, ‘Midnight in Paris‘, was directed by none other that Woody Allen. If that doesn’t inspire nostalgia, I don’t know what will. But the irony of the whole experience was that the message of the film was about not living in the past. So many of us tend to view our own generation with the opposite of rose-colored glasses. We eye each other with a cynicism that loudly exclaims how much worse we have it now than they did back in the day. How many of us have sighed and thought to ourselves that we were just born in the wrong era. If only we could experience the golden age of (fill in the blank). Or perhaps it’s not a time period that you covet so much as a location. If only we could live in Paris! The air is pink there and music fills every street. Inspiration would flow freely and unabated and life would be so much better than it is here in (fill in the blank). But the truth is, as the film so beautifully illustrated, life is what we make of it. Despite how it seems sometimes, the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Generations prior to us also believed that they had it much more difficult than the generations prior to them . . . and so on and so on. If we are constantly envying people for their position or place, then we fail to see and experience the things that people will envy us for later. This is the central theme of my blog. Learning to appreciate and really live now the things we’ll reminisce about later. And then, when we do reminisce, it will not be a wistful longing for what might have been, but a happy remembrance of what actually was. ‘Midnight in Paris’ was such a beautiful illustration of this idea that, although I could never claim comradery with such a brilliant man as Woody Allen, I felt it was to the world of film what I aspire this blog to be for its genre. If you haven’t seen it, make every effort to do so. It will make you smile and appreciate your life for what it is and not for what it might have been or could be.
I am a people person. Far more than most. Although, I think getting older has made me a bit more cynical or selective about who I chose to befriend. But I recently found myself wondering if that is a good thing. Shouldn’t age and wisdom teach us tolerance and open-mindedness rather than keep us bound to the immaturity of judgementalism? All people, from all ages, walks of life, classes, and cultures have something to offer. We can all learn from each other if we are open enough to receive the lessons. Even from people we deem to be beneath us. Perhaps especially from them. I have learned more from my son in the two years he has been on this planet than I have from many of the “intellectual” adults I have encountered. I have learned more from old people who many would call out-of-touch than I have from some of the hippest acquaintances I have made. Some people who I may have initially thought too immature to contribute much to a balanced friendship, end up being the light-hearted relief that I crave in the middle of an otherwise stressful time. Others, for whom everything seems to come easy, who have never had to fight for their supper and electricity, may once have spawned jealousy in me, but lately inspire gratitude for the richness that the struggle has brought to my life.
This awareness of the unseen value in friendships that we might not have initially given much of a chance, came yesterday as my husband was making plans with a relatively new friend. Without being asked, I volunteered that I was not very fond of this friend. My husband was quick to point out that I used to say the same thing about another of his buddies who’s friendship I now consider myself lucky to claim. If he had not prodded me to overcome my initial judgements about that person, I would have missed out on a valuable, affirming, kind relationship simply because I was too closed minded to be accepting. Patience with people is an immeasurable virtue I am only beginning to comb the depths of. Acceptance of differences is what connects us with people unlike ourselves and these people then bring balance and change to our lives in ways our other similar, like-minded friends never could have. Friendships come in all kinds of packages and sometimes it’s the oddest looking ones that have the most valuable contents.
We all long to feel appreciated. We want to know if other people recognize that the things we do are important. It is integral to our happiness in all of our relationships, from friendships and marriages to employers and children. And today I learned, from a very simple source, that a little gratitude goes a long way.
For the past three years, since we have lived in our current house, we have had the same garbage men. They come every Monday and Thursday to collect our waste and take it away. I cannot imagine a much more thankless and disgusting job. And yet, I must admit, that for those same three years I have harbored a slight annoyance at them – simply because they were careless about where they left our can. Sometimes it would end up down the street a bit, often several feet away from the lid. And I would always grumble about why they couldn’t just put it back on the curb. All that changed when my son became fascinated with “Dump Trucks.” From our kitchen, we can hear the truck coming around the block and for a half hour every Monday and Thursday morning, I hear the repeated exclamation, “Mommy, the DUMP TRUCK’s coming!” And as it get’s closer and louder, he says with surprising urgency, “The dump truck! I need to go see it!” And we will stop whatever we are doing, sometimes covered in breakfast, and go marching outside to see the dump truck. We wave emphatically and, because I am trying to teach my son to be polite and grateful despite the grumblings in my own mind, I tell him to say thank you loud enough for them to hear it over the din of the truck. All three of the men have come to recognize us and smile broadly as we walk out the door. The driver “beeps” his horn, and one of the collectors always waves and gives thumbs up. Today and for the past several weeks since we began thanking them, the garbage can was placed nicely on the curb with the lid on top. I never said anything to them about it. It was just a natural response to kindness. It made me wonder how often these men, who do such an amazing service for us, ever receive thanks. Of any kind. I intend to continue thanking them long after my son’s fascination wanes.
And then I began to consider all of the other unappreciated jobs that people do for us on a regular basis and how rarely we stop to thank them and make them feel like what they do is important. Too often we feel entitled to services we would never perform. Security guards at shopping centers. Check out clerks at grocery stores. People working fast food windows. Entergy service technicians working at midnight in a storm. The doctors and nurses at public clinics who even work holidays. If we wouldn’t want to do their jobs, but we utilize their services, shouldn’t we be much quicker to show gratitude? And not just to people doing jobs we don’t want to do, but also to those closer to home who do jobs we would have to do if they did not. Like a spouse’s trip to the grocery store or afternoon spent folding laundry. Or a child’s willingness to pick up their things when asked, or a colleague sharing the workload on a big project that could never be finished in time alone. I think we’d find that we would get much better service with a much bigger smile if we found small ways to regularly say thank you. And we may even make someone else’s job a bit easier and their day a bit brighter.