As I leash up John’s dog, he stuffs cookies into his pocket. On nice days, we walk on a nearby trail before getting coffee to go with the cookies. Armed with hot beverages, we drive the back-country roads past gorgeous old barns, clumps of sheep, and painted ponies.
John, a retired commercial airline pilot, has early-onset Alzheimer’s. My friend, Cynthia, can’t leave her husband alone, so I hang out with him once a week. Which allows her time to run errands, purchase groceries, and keep appointments.
One of the things I enjoy about being in John’s company is his ability to see the world with wonder.
“Oh, my gosh! Look at the size of that mountain! So beautiful! Wow!”
“Wow, did you see those llamas? So cute! So cute!”
“Wow, look at how high he’s soaring! Oh, look, there’s two hawks! Jimeneez!”
I like to think of myself as a noticer, as someone who pays attention to life, to beauty in nature, to the brimming number of things for which there are to be grateful.
But John surpasses me in so many ways.
Anne Lamott wrote, “Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house!’ The child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, ‘Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny baby!’”
And so, the day after hanging out with John, I hiked a favorite trail along the river that flows through the middle of my town. I’ve walked this path a few hundred times. But when did I last notice—really notice—all the sights and aromas and sounds?
I think when something becomes so familiar, we fail to recognize the amazingness of it.
When something becomes so familiar, we fail to recognize the amazingness of it. When did I last notice—really notice—all the sights and aromas and sounds around me?
Inspired by John, I saw the river trail through his eyes, capturing photos along the way. Mama duck conducting swimming lessons. The sun peering through trunks of impossibly tall trees. Delicate yellow flowers waving on slender stalks.
“I think this is how we’re supposed to be in the world,” wrote Anne Lamott, “—present and in awe.”
Become a Seeker of Gratitude
Spending time with John reminds me to be right there in the moment, paying attention and speaking gratitude to the Creator of all this wonder. Which sounds lovely and easy if life is going well. But how much awe and gratitude are expected when I’m caring for a mom with Alzheimer’s? When cancer is stealing my husband from me? When his lay-off meant the sale of our home? How much wonder is required of me now that I am bereft of my mom, of my husband who was also my best friend? How vital is it to see the world through the eyes of a child or an Alzheimer’s patient, even in the hard and holy moments?
Speaking from experience—although grit and grace are required—cultivating wonder is critical.
Because seeing triggers gratitude. And no, I wasn’t grateful to lose a mother to Alzheimer’s, a husband to cancer, to face widowhood with limited resources. But I was thankful I had them and they had me. And I have brimming memories of childhood and an astonishing movie reel of our married years plays in my head. And because of them, I have these kids, these grandkids, this extended family.
A grateful heart produces joy. And if we want this joy, then perhaps we should nurture awestruck-ness. What if we committed to getting outdoors this week with camera in hand to capture the unique, the beautiful? And what if we stopped to listen and identify all the different sounds in nature? And what if we thanked God for our ability to get outdoors, for all our senses intact, for this breath in, this breath out? How might this transform our outlook as we wrestle with the adversities of life that will surely touch each of us? What if we just take merely one day, perhaps that could be today, to see the beauty you may be missing and choose to return to wonder?
For more wise words from strong women, start here:
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Speaking from experience—although grit and grace are required—cultivating wonder is critical. If we want joy, then perhaps we should nurture awestruck-ness.