I will experience the New Year in a new house, in a new locale, in a new city. Come to think of it, I will wake up in a new world with – yes, it nearly escaped my attention – a new life. I will wake up, at least I hope to, to a new day. 165,000 people die in the world every day, often for reasons not easily identified. It is a pleasant surprise if I am not one of them. It is a miracle that I will be alive and a new day will dawn for me.
New light, new hope, new miracle. This is another example of how fully trifles occupy our attention and obscure our vision of the great drama of life unfolding before us. When I left my Washington home, now being sold to a new owner, Mark, my realtor and friend, took several photos of the house and its rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, deck and even the front yard. I was amazed when he sent them to me. This is my house! It looked so beautiful and well-kept that I could not imagine anybody not wanting to live in it. I looked at the photos, saw so many things I hadn’t noticed earlier and wondered what had induced me to abandon it.
We know so little of the things around us. In my new home in Charleston, I try to walk around with the eyes of a newborn. Don’t tell me I have bought an ordinary bed. I find it preternaturally comfortable, the new sheets unspeakably chic. The kitchen is a marvel. A spanking-new oven, a massive refrigerator that could feed Napoleon’s army, a complex toaster that seems equipped to do a thousand things more than toasting. If I step out, a manicured lawn, with strategically placed chairs where I can sit and read, then walk around a miniature lake and marvel at the evergreens and orange trees. Beyond this, there is an entire growing city to explore, behold and admire.
If you think I am naïve, I will counter that you are jaded. I am perhaps in an unreasonably ebullient mood, but I do see a lot of beautiful things in this world. Both by training and perhaps a little by inclination, I see a lot of ugly things too. I see hate and hypocrisy, cruelty and callousness, inequality and intolerance. But there is also generosity and grace along with greed, passion and poetry side by side with pure pettiness. And there are choicest things and charming people.
A good friend brought Crystal to a Christmas party at my home seven years ago. Suave and elegant, even in a sartorially conscious town like Washington, Crystal, justifying her name, is one of the best-dressed persons. We have been friends ever since. We shared an interest in plays and sometimes went to the theatre together. Then her parents had health problems and she had to leave for the west coast, with the prospect of a permanent abandonment of Washington – about the same time that I too abandoned Washington and moved to another end of the compass. It was a loss for me.
She still writes. Notes and messages. She also wrote this to me, which, at the dawn of a new year, is better than anything I could have written. The year was challenging for all of us. The challenges may have been different for each of us, but we all experienced them. For some, the challenge was working from home; for others, it was not working at all. For some, it was not seeing loved ones; for others, it was the loss of loved ones. For some, it was trying not to eat too much; for others, it was not having enough to eat. For some, it was logging onto Zoom, for others, it was logging off from Zoom.
Whatever the challenges, all of us experienced at least one. Some experienced more than one. I am no different. But I choose to look back at the year in an attitude of gratitude. Despite the challenges I faced, I realize that I was still very fortunate. I did not lose my home. I did not go hungry. I did not lose anyone close to me. I appreciate it all and do not take any of it for granted, not for a second. My heart breaks for those who suffered a loss. But I feel thankful. I am thankful for Zoom that allowed me to see my family in California. I am thankful for the stay-athome order that allowed me to rediscover evenings, weekends and sleep.
I am thankful for the valuable, intentional time I could spend with loved ones. I am thankful for the flowers that bloomed in my neighbor’s yard. I don’t remember seeing them ever in the five years I have lived next door. It dawned on me that I have been in a rush for five years. I am thankful for the time to reflect and re-evaluate life and what is important. I am thankful that I have decided to see every day as a special occasion. Why? Because it is! If the past year taught me nothing else, it taught me that. I will no longer save the expensive perfume or precious jewelry for a special occasion. Today is the special occasion. I have woken up!
(The writer is a US-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected])