As the end of the year approaches and thoughts of the New Year are slipping into our consciousness a simple suggestion begins to pop up on social media. Write your gratitudes on a slip of paper at the end of each day. Put the slip into a glass jar and a year from now you’ll have 365 reminders of the many blessings that you have enjoyed during the year. I immediately liked this idea when I first read about it several years ago, but being in possession of assorted diaries that are blank beyond February, I was aware of limitations…I’m not always that good at follow through. “What if I had friends willing to undertake this idea with me?” I wondered.
And so it was that in January 2014, fifteen Facebook friends, whose only connection to each other was their relationship to me, committed to one year of sharing blessings, joys, and happy surprises with each other in a secret online group. We called it The Virtual Jar. We filled the jar…the virtual jar…with the description of small joys, pleasures, and wonders as well as photos, memes, poems, and paragraphs about the large events in our lives as well. The group commitment kept us all involved and at the end of the year we were indeed able to all look back on the blessings and gifts in our lives. Sharing the riches of our lives, was uplifting and encouraging, but the added bonus of this exercise was listening as these women reframed misfortunes, disappointments and sorrows into a positives worthy of gratitude. By their example I discovered that on the days it’s a challenge to find something to smile about simply changing your point of view could make all the difference.
I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective in the past few months as I went through the process of moving from Vermont to Michigan. Many of my friends…in Michigan and Vermont…knew of my decision, but of course nothing is totally official until it has been posted on Facebook. When I finally made my plans public the juxtaposition of the comments made by my two groups of friends was quite humorous. My Vermont friends left messages of shock and sadness, while my Michigan friends left messages…in the same thread, I might add…of surprise and delight. The same facts, but the reaction was totally based on perspective.
One November, decades ago while Dave was in the UP…Upper Peninsula…of Michigan deer hunting, I came home from shopping to discover that my electric blanket had been smoldering all day and my mattress, while not yet in flames, was also slowly burning. I called my friend and asked if her husband was home. “Yes”, she drawled. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” I replied, “Could he come down and help me? My mattress is on fire.”
Yes, I know the situation left the door open for all kinds of joke telling…husband away…hot mattress and all…but at the time I was just concerned about getting the bedding out of the house. I also know I should have called the fire department, but…like I said…I just wanted that hot mess out the door. Of course, once the smoldering fabric hit the oxygen of the outside air, flames erupted and it made quite the sight out on the lawn until we doused the blaze.
The next day at work my friend said, “Boy, you were really lucky.”
“Well…I was thinking that if I were really lucky the fire wouldn’t have started at all.”
“But you are lucky,” she said. “You are very lucky that you have a house that could have burned down. Not everyone has a house that they could lose. You do.”
I’ve often thought about that logic and being prompted to look at the situation from another vantage point.
My sister and her husband live on the Muskegon River. Shortly after carpenters had completed a project installing new gutters on the front of their house a large tree fell onto the roof, taking a large chunk out of the brand new gutters. When they surveyed the damage they noticed that although the roof and the gutters would have to be repaired…again…without the tree blocking their view they were suddenly able to see the beauty of the river much more clearly. Like the 17th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide, who wrote: “Barn’s burnt down –now I can see the moon,” they were literally given a new way of seeing, but more than that, in the case of the poet and also in my sister’s case, looking at the entire situation in the less obvious way gave them a new perspective. Instead of lamenting what was lost they rejoiced at what was newly discovered. Well…at least until they get the bill for the gutters.
Changing the way we look at things can be healing and helpful. Leaving Vermont was like suffering another loss; another grief. I mourned as the Green Mountains of Vermont gave way to the plains of Ontario. For more than four hundred miles I was leaving a place and people I love until suddenly, just as anticipated, my perspective changed. I was no longer sadly leaving Vermont I was arriving in Michigan with a sense of excitement, adventure and looking forward to being with other people I love.
If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.Mary Engelbreit
When my son was young we took him to the eye doctor. After the exam, the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with this boy’s eyes.”
“But his teacher said he can’t see the board,” I exclaimed in a puzzled voice.
“That’s ’cause Bruce’s head is in the way.”
As far as I know, the ability to change how we think about something is a uniquely human experience. For the most part, we can control where we stand to watch the sunset. We can choose where we sit to gaze at the stars. If Bruce’s head is in the way…just move our desk.
Peacemaking, acceptance, understanding and compassion are also the result of a change of perspective. Looking through another’s window might help to explain the way they see the world. We might not agree on what we see, but it is a beginning. At least we’d be looking.
It’s all just a matter of perspective.
Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early birdShel Silverstein, Early Bird, Where the Sidewalk Ends
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird–
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”