I’m calling these “gratitude episodes.”
I met Amy on a plane ride. Within the space of about an hour we had a conversation that led us around the world and back, together. I have no idea if I will ever see Amy again but the gift of her insights and experiences that she shared with me about teaching, learning, pet care, and leading an authentic life was huge.
An elderly man made his way through a buzzing crowd of educators. I was able to read the name tag on his lanyard and strode over to him with intent. I offered my hand and he shook it firmly, leaning forward in order to hear me say my name clearly. This was the man who, as the founder of a recruiting agency I was aiming to leave, called me personally on Skype in order to intervene. He was 78 at the time and planning on retiring but he still felt it necessary to talk with me and explain that not all of his recruiters were equally creative in their thinking. I will never forget that phone call and so it was an honor to finally meet this gentleman in person to say “Thank you.” As we chatted further we found time to speak glowingly of mutual friend and to sing the praises of Vienna. The encounter proved to be an absolute highlight of my conference weekend.
A dear friend and I took a time our during the conference and enjoyed a one-on-one conversation which felt like a deliciously satisfying four-course meal by the time we were done. We sat in the sun, gazing out on the Adriatic Sea and talked about yoga, solitude, the wonders of life and gratitude. This conversation filled my cup and boosted my energy.
I shared a vacation apartment with two colleagues who are both teachers of music. We have known each other and worked in the same school together for a long time. Yet spending time with them in this context felt like a revelation. I was (re)acquainted with their generosity, humor, and sense of order. We shared stories about our lives which for me felt so fully enriching and edifying. At long last, I was getting to know my colleagues more deeply, and they, me.
At the close of the workshop that I facilitated, one participant said: “You practice what you preach.” This was in reference to the way in which I conducted the workshop on inclusion activities – paced according to the participants’ needs, invitational in atmosphere, going for experience rather than just description. While this is what I aim for every time, to hear someone say it to me directly in response to a learning experience we’ve just shared – well, that is a rare instance indeed. It reminds me of how incalculable our efforts of teaching, sharing, facilitating, coaching, and guiding ultimately are. We almost never know for sure how and to what degree we have impacted others in the short and long term. For this reason, I hold this one piece of feedback as precious.
While I was enjoying the beautiful setting of this conference, I walked a fair amount, sometimes with others and also alone. I’ve been reading Atul Gawande’s extraordinary new book, Being Mortal which examines how we handle dying and aging in our modern Western societies in particular. And as I walked I thought about these topics and so often I was infused with moments of breathless gratitude for my good health, for the privileges I was enjoying in that moment, for the warm sun on my face, the respect and friendship of my colleagues, for the freedom to be and do as I see fit, for the wonders of nature: sea, stars, blossoms and stones, for time on my own, for the connection to my family which makes all of this possible. The list continues. Yet in reading about being mortal, about grappling with the prospect of imminent death, I gained a renewed sense of purpose and also relief. “All I have to do is to make this the best it can be right now. That’s it. Not more.”
This is my gratitude post today. Tomorrow’s or next week’s or next year’s will be different, I suspect. That the gratitude continues to flow and find a generous home in my day-to-day habits, this is my wish and also my intent.