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How to Be Grateful
Most of us are waiting for something to happen. Maybe we are waiting to fall in love. Maybe we are waiting for our careers to finally take off. Maybe we are even waiting for something to end. Often, we are eager to get to some place other than where we are. We want to be somewhere in the distance — where the grass is greener. However, the grass is usually never greener, but it does fade. It fades and becomes something else because life is constantly changing.
When life does change, we may miss the way it was. We may miss those long and dreadful morning drives or walks to the office, or those hectic family gatherings. We may miss them because even moments like these are finite — we will only travel those streets and see those people a certain amount of times. Every time we do something that is one less time we do it. One day we will do something the final time and we will rarely know when that day comes.
For example, I can barely remember the last time I went swimming in the ocean. I think the last time was when I was living in New York. Some friends and I took a trip on Memorial Day weekend to Montauk — a beach town near the city.
It had been a long week for me. I had just finished an 80 hour work week and felt exhausted. I needed time away from the office so I rented a small house in Montauk with some friends. We took the Friday afternoon train from Penn Station, which is a three-hour trip that takes you from the heart of Manhattan to the end of Long Island. The last stop is Montauk.
The train is usually packed with eager beach goers and you are lucky if you can grab a seat. Unfortunately, we did not find seats so we stood the entire ride. When we arrived, we immediately jumped off the train and grabbed the first cab to our rental — the only good thing about standing the whole way is you are the first one off the train and you can hail a taxi before everyone else.
Montauk is a quant village town on the east end of the Hamptons. The town is full of 18th century wooden buildings. It has one small grocery store and two gas stations. Some of the homes are luxurious and modern, but most are modest.
When we got to our rental, we realized why it was so cheap — it was falling apart at the seams. The flooring of the house made a creaky sound whenever you walked on it and the wood paneling on the walls was splintering apart. Also, there were no utensils or working kitchen appliances. The pictures we saw online did not match the house. Unfortunately, there was no other place we could rent. The weekend was not off to a great start and, if I am being honest, I wanted to go back home. It had been a long day. Grabbing a meal around the corner from my apartment and going to bed early sounded amazing.
To salvage the trip, one of my friends convinced us to walk down to the beach. I went reluctantly. I did not visit Montauk expecting to go to the beach. I simply wanted to get out of the city. When I visited Montauk in the past, I usually did the same things I did in the city, like going out to restaurants or bars. The only difference is there is no constant car honking or congestion in Montauk like in the city, which I loved. I could actually hear myself think here. That is all I wanted on this trip. I wanted a peaceful break from my city life.
As I sat there on the sand, I felt an inner silence. I let the cool, ocean wind caress my face while the sound of the crushing waves soothed my ears. I could hear the fish moving around in the sea — it felt like it was just us there.
All of a sudden, the friend who convinced us to walk down suggested we jump in the ocean. I was hesitant because it was cold and windy that day. I nonetheless went. The ‘jump’ was not an actual jump — it was a prolonged walk made worse by the icy cold water. Despite the fear of hyperthermia, I kept walking until I was shoulders deep in the water. I then plunged my head in the water. I could taste the salt on my tongue. I could feel the seaweed moving through my legs. After a few moments, my body got used to the cold water. I then closed my eyes as I laid back. Suddenly, I felt my thoughts and struggles washing away. My life back in the city seemed like a faraway galaxy. The tension in my body was slowly unraveling. I was letting the ocean do its work. I was relaxing.
Eventually, I stood up and opened my eyes as I looked around. I noticed everyone else was back on the sand. I must have been laying in the water for a few minutes. I took a glance at the ocean behind me and then waddled back. My friends were talking about dinner. One of my friends said they made reservations for us at 8 PM at a restaurant nearby. It was already 7 PM. If we wanted to make the reservation, we would have to get ready soon. As we started walking back, I took one last look at the beach.
It has been over two years since that trip. I never would have guessed I would go that long without seeing the beach again. Had I known, I would have savored that moment more. Maybe I would have stayed at the beach a little longer instead of heading back so soon. Or maybe I would have woken up early to go back again the next day. At the very least, I would have taken a deep breath of that ocean air one last time. I now realize that everything in life is like my last beach trip.
We have no idea when the next time for anything will be. For all we know, today might be the last time we walk in a particular neighborhood. Or it might be the last time we smile at a particular someone. To think otherwise, would be foolish. Nothing is guaranteed, except this moment. Our only ‘real’ choice is to cherish every exchange like it is our last — because it very well might be.
One day we will reminiscence about today. We will long for these opportunities again — opportunities we are casually letting slip away. We will wish we sucked the marrow out of life while we could. Luckily, we still can. There is still some life left. We just have to open our eyes and hearts.
The best way to appreciate life is to remind ourselves of life’s impermanence. It is to remember that every time we see someone that is one less time we see them. It is to remember that every time we go somewhere that is one less time we visit. By doing this, we naturally slow down. Almost like a reflex, we start to truly live.
Maybe you are reluctant to be grateful. Maybe you are in a dull or empty mood because you had a hard work week. Or maybe something in your personal life has left you feeling defeated. I have been there. I know what counting down the days is like. I know the heartbreak that comes with disappointment. However, if you have the free time to read this, remember you are one of the lucky ones. There are at least a billion people on earth who would consider their prayers answered to be you. The kings and queens of our past would have prayed to be you too. You have opportunities and a life they could only dream of. Never forget that.
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