Every year, I take a stab at it, at being a better person. The subject tends to come up around my birthday, an occasion I am prone to celebrate with much fanfare, as if my immediate world should give a damn about the momentous occasion of my birth. But friends and family all humor me and, at least, pretend rather well (under penalty of loss of friendship, maybe).
On my last day of vacation, I got up earlier than usual. I stole out of the house just after 6, the dogs amazed at their good luck on not having to feign sleep for another couple of hours. The sun was just about taking its place in the big vault, and the river was at low tide – an impressive amount of birds was drinking, perched on the mud. At our approach, they fled and I enjoyed, maybe for the last time in a while, the delicious sound of wings fluttering and skimming the water – a papery, perfectly calibrated sound I wish I could hear more often.
There was a chill in the air and the dogs willed me to walk farther than it had become our habit – there were more cows whose acquaintances they wanted to make. As I trotted along, my birthday only a few days away, I asked myself what I wished for this year. My last birthday, the 50th, was marked by the decision to leave my job, to trod the unchartered territory of reinventing myself. In a way, it was as life-changing as moving countries, or getting married, with the tumult being only inward. It took a while to accept both the sudden freedom to report only to myself and the possibilities that were not as limitless as twenty years ago.
This year, though, I couldn’t come up with anything better than just wishing for a better version of the year that was just concluding. Staring in the eyes of a cow, who seemed annoyed at our mucking about, I felt slightly disappointed. Really? Is this the best you can do?
Sofagirl and I had agreed to riff on the subject of generosity this week, so generosity and, its cousin, gratitude, had been on my mind. Tricky lady, gratitude. We typically acknowledge it when the occasion calls for but I certainly don’t go through life feeling grateful every single moment for my circumstances, my health, not having to worry about putting food on the table and all the other blessings, big and small, that accompany our ordinary lives. But when, along the banks of a Oregon river, I was mildly surprised at my overall contentment, I also realized that gratitude probably plays a large part. Sure, my life could be ameliorated by a number of things – like having a steady income from the fruits of my fun labour – but none of them are a deal breaker and, certainly, none are worth me flapping and flailing and worrying and wishing my time away hoping for circumstances to be different.
Maybe what I want this year for my birthday is to properly acknowledge that feeling of gratitude a bit more often, just because. Buddhists call it being mindful. In my case, also being a bit more patient with certain situations or people might not go amiss either. But the strife for perfection is finally over and, for that, am I grateful! Generosity starts with oneself. Acknowledging one’s darker sides and least flattering parts, and accepting them, is an exercise in kindness that often leads us to be more tolerant of others. I always thought of becoming perfect the moment I would be able to wipe out the annoying traits of my personality. Instead, learning to tame them somewhat, being present, for myself and others, turned out to be just good enough.
With the cow protecting her baby and now positively annoyed at Ottie and Portia’s entreaties, a bull came to the rescue. I don’t know if bulls really favour the color red but, sporting a bright red sweatshirt, I thought it was time to be generous to the cow and go be grateful somewhere else. I tugged at the leashes, turned around towards the blue house and trotted along towards my 51st birthday.
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