When I need a healthy perspective, I remember a smile I glimpsed on a gorgeous spring day.
I was on a scaffold, painting my first house. It was a messy, tedious, seemingly endless job and, on top of that, I had a fear of heights. I was cranky and consumed with the nagging sense that I could be doing many other things at that moment. Really, doing any other thing would have been preferable.
As I contemplated this, I happened to glance toward the street in the second it took for a bald girl to walk past my driveway. It took another moment for me to remember that the teenage girl down the street had brain cancer.
I had heard the disease was pretty far along and it was looking rough for her. Besides her hair being gone, her clothes were hanging off her frail frame. But I realized I was fascinated by something: her smile.
No one else was there to see it and I don’t think she saw me, so it wasn’t just a brave face. It didn’t look like it either. It was one of those smiles you find on your face before you even know you’re happy. It’s just there and you are.
That’s when I looked up at the sky and around to see that it was a peach of a day, just gorgeous. It had been a tough winter, even for upstate New York. This was the first opportunity I had to paint the house I’d bought the previous fall.
I sat down to stir the paint, looking at the swirl, thinking about what I was doing. I was a newlywed taking care of his first house, outside on a beautiful day. And whining about it.
Here was a girl who probably would not have the chance to live out dreams like this, but, nevertheless, she was just enjoying the day. At that moment, I vowed to make my life count, to never take for granted what I have.
I have shared this inspiration with a few people, but it’s been a while since I discussed it. That’s because I have always struggled with its real meaning. At first, it was gratitude about what I had. But, in truth, that feeling faded.
Yeah, yeah, I was grateful, but sometimes I would think life dealt many cruelties that girl could be grateful not to experience. That house? I was drowning in it during the 1990-92 recession and had to sell at a steep loss. That marriage? Well, its failure was why I had to sell the house.
But I learned that this reasoning was as absurd as not enjoying a beautiful day while caring for a new life and love. Good/bad, they follow like night and day. It’s all a gift. Out of that experience came the perspective that made the next good thing all the more precious.
I was reminded of this because of our interview feature in this month’s magazine. In it, Duncan MacPherson shares the insight that the word “deserve” has its root in the Latin “to serve.” How often have we said, “I deserve”? Even when we mature and we stop saying that, we still think it.
We’re resentful when we don’t get what we “deserve” from our family, friends, clients, bosses, whoever. But is that what it’s all about? Getting something from someone else? Study after study shows that giving leads to satisfaction and happiness. Getting just leads to more stuff and then that stuff needs stuff. Deserve is to serve. What goes out comes back, accepted for what it is.
Acceptance. That was behind the peace of that smile.
I’m sure it was also the joy of walking. It is enriching when we accept the walk and enjoy the journey. If it’s just the thing getting in the way of A and B, a walk is no fun.
But take in what we’re seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, and suddenly we’re smiling.
I explored this a bit in last January’s editor letter when I described how my daily walk with my dog, Clarabella, was a lifesaver for me. In the year since then, I’ve taken a bit of a journey through these letters to you. I’ve talked about many things that I hope also related to your life and your business.
I arrive at a different place this January. During the year, I realized I was no longer enjoying my morning walk. I was angry at drivers and impatient with Clara. But the only thing different about these mornings was my attitude. Eventually, I understood I had not been paying attention to some things that had to change in my life.
I won’t impose more details on you than I already have. I will just say I no longer walk with Clara in the morning because I don’t live with her anymore. She has a new brother and now in the morning, they play in my former yard. Despite her skittish and jealous nature, she has accepted her younger brother and she has matured.
I now live close enough to my office that I can walk to work. Whatever the weather, each day, not just the beautiful ones, has its own treasure.
Many mornings, I think back to that smile and reach up to my mouth to realize it’s crept up there without my knowing it.
Happy New Year,
Steven A. Morelli