“unabashed gratitude”

by Christie Shumate McElwee

This past Wednesday on the first day of Lent I drove to the Botanical Gardens to revel in the late February snow that blanketed our area. I wandered the paths, running into just a few other hardy souls. Walking the quiet park, I was struck at how different it all looked in the winter with no leaves to hide the beauty. I breathed in the peace, knowing that in a few weeks when the bulbs burst forth and the cherry blossoms show their glory, the place will be jammed with people wanting to catch the first glimpse of spring. So I walked briskly around the grounds, saving the warmth of the tropical Climatron for last. I even wandered through an orchid show, though I must admit their beauty and intricacies are lost on me.

I have decided during Lent I am gathering up small delights, seeing joy in snapshots. I am learning how to live as an observer, a scientist, a traveler documenting life’s enchantments. Seeing the daily minutia as gifts will help me dig my way out of winter’s darkness. It will remind me to stop, to appreciate, to know spring is coming. In the Christian faith, Lent is a time of fasting and preparation for Easter. In Eastern Orthodox circles Lent is known as the season of “Bright Sadness,” which sounds achingly appropriate. Spring does not come one day all dressed up in its finery. No, it slogs and drags its muddy feet. Spring teaches us patience. During the forty days of waiting, we spy proof of the magic that surrounds us. We grudgingly endure storms and acknowledge the particular cruelty of spring, but we also know it always comes bearing flashes of pink and purple and white.

Back in January I listened to an episode of the podcast “This American Life,” which addressed the subject of delight. For an hour the narrator recounted different perspectives of delight. One was a young boy’s joy at his first school bus ride. Another was the jubilant pleasure of an older widow’s search for the delight in her life. The narrator’s inspiration was the poet Ross Gay and his collection of daily essays in “The Book of Delights.” Gay tumbled through a tough year chronicling the small delights he observed. I was struck by how we can examine our daily lives, gathering joy from the simplest of things.

Now, four days into my journey, I have already amassed a bounty of delights: the noises Finn the cat makes while he sleeps, mornings spent in my cozy chair, finally finishing The Grapes of Wrath, a long afternoon nap, texting with my oldest friend Sheila, my yoga instructor Sarah’s sweet smile as she cues our practice, the gratitude that comes from a clean house, a surprise phone call from son Christopher, Saturday breakfast at our favorite coffee joint, and enjoying the fragile beauty of one of the last snows of winter. 

Small moments can grace us with delight, even among the shards of despair, conflict, and heartache, but only if we hold open the door and let our unabashed gratitude tiptoe into the room.

“…what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.”

~Ross Gay, “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude”

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” ~Anne Lamott

Our Front Porch

For years now I have wanted a big front porch. Not a puny one with just a few steps and barely room for a potted plant. A porch with comfy furniture, big pots of herbs and flowers, and, of course, a swing. A place to gather, to contemplate the day, to nod at neighbors, to just be quiet. That has been my dream, and now, finally, it has come to fruition. 

American architecture of homes has evolved over the years. Once upon a time the front porch was a staple in most houses. Before air conditioning, families gathered on the porch after dinner to catch a cool breeze and visit. Even after WWII when suburbia creeped outward, children played games in the streets as their parents gossiped together over coolers of cold beer. Eventually, though, houses became fortresses where families locked themselves in against the world. Two car garages now faced the streets while large decks were built behind fences, and high tech security systems protected the ones inside against the evils lurking beyond the front stoop.

In all the homes I have inhabited the porches have been small, nondescript cement blocks I attempted to beautify with pink begonias and tinkling wind chimes. These spaces welcomed visitors, yet did not invite people to stop, sit, and share stories. When we knew we would be moving to a new town, I had a wish list and a spacious front porch was among the important items. I looked at dozens of places, yet nothing spoke to me. I knew it was out there, this new smaller home where we would live and love. I would feel it as I walked in the door. And then I wandered into this community where almost every house has a front porch, some even two. I saw stately Adirondack chairs facing quiet ponds and wicker plumped up with colorful pillows. But most importantly, I noticed the porch swings. Somehow, this was where we were intended to live.

This past weekend my husband and I assembled four vintage looking metal chairs, two small tables, and, of course, a swing. Last night we sat on the porch, sipping drinks, and relaxing in the beauty that is our cottage. Even this morning I spent time on the swing with my journal and a cup of coffee. Later this week I will make a pilgrimage to the local garden store for flowers and herbs, but for now this porch fills me with gratitude and simple joy.

“I return to my front porch to find a place where the air smells sweeter and the sun feels warmer than at any other bend in life’s long road.” – John Sarris

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

Featured

Good People

“Where’d all the good people go?

I’ve been changing channels

I don’t see them on the TV shows

Where’d all the good people go?

We go heaps and heaps of what we sow.”

Jack Johnson, “Good People”

That song seems to be reverberating in my head lately. The world appears to be saturated with mean spirited, hateful, bigoted, selfish, and rotten individuals spewing venom through their vile words and behavior. There are presidential candidates rallying fear. There are government officials boasting their superiority over others. There are guns everywhere, yet no one is safe. There are “churches” that hail hate as their doctrine. Everyone is pointing fingers. Victims abound. 

“Where’d all the good people go?” 

This got me thinking about the qualities of “good people.” What makes a good person?

A good person has honor. She gives her word and follows up on promises. 

A good person possesses grace. Grace is something that comes from within. A person with grace is kind and good and full of heart. 

A good person is grateful. He doesn’t brag about what he has or feel jealous when others have more. He is grateful for the simple joys in his life.

A good person has compassion. She empathizes with others. She gives of her time and her money. She reaches out to her friends and helps strangers. Her smile is sincere.

A good person is accepting. He may not agree with others, but he accepts other views. He reserves judgment.

I am lucky to have many good people in my life. They hug longer, judge less, laugh with glee, and make this world fine and glorious. They know who they are, and I am grateful every day for their passion. They are full of honor and grace and gratitude and compassion and acceptance. They are the “good people.” 

So, turn off the news, power down your phone, and tune out the spoiled and the wicked. Seek out the good people in your life. They are our greatest joys.

“What a great favor God does to those he places in the company of good people.”

– St. Teresa of Avila