The standard habit of the mind is to take
careful note what’s not right in our lives
and obsess about all that is missing. But
in a new mood, perhaps after a lot of longing
and turmoil, we pause and notice some of what
has – remarkably – not gone wrong. The
house is looking beautiful at the moment.
We’re in pretty good health, all things
considered. The afternoon sun is deeply reassuring.
Sometimes the children are kind. Our partner
is – at points – very generous. It’s
been quite mild lately. Yesterday, we were
happy all evening. We’re quite enjoying
our work at the moment. Gratitude is a mood
that grows with age. It is extremely rare
properly to delight in flowers or a quiet
evening at home, a cup of tea or a walk in
the woods when one is under twenty-two. There
are so many larger, grander things to be concerned
about: romantic love, career fulfillment and
political change. However, it is rare to be
left entirely indifferent by smaller things
in time. Gradually, almost all one’s earlier,
larger aspirations take a hit, perhaps a very
large hit. One encounters some of the intractable
problems of intimate relationships. One suffers
the gap between one’s professional hopes
and the available realities. One has a chance
to observe how slowly and fitfully the world
ever alters in a positive direction. One is
fully inducted to the extent of human wickedness
and folly – and to one’s own eccentricity,
selfishness and madness. And so, ‘little
things’ start to seem somewhat different;
no longer a petty distraction from a mighty
destiny, no longer an insult to ambition,
but a genuine pleasure amidst a litany of
troubles, an invitation to bracket anxieties
and keep self-criticism at bay, a small resting
place for hope in a sea of disappointment.
We appreciate the slice of toast, the friendly
encounter, the long hot bath, the spring morning
– and properly keep in mind how much worse
it could, and probably will one day, be.
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