On Monday morning, I decided to resist the day for a few extra minutes, linger over my tea and crack open a library book. I had just picked up A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen - because, yes please, any help I can get - and I thought I'd just read a few pages before getting on with my day. Well, I read the whole thing. In about 15 minutes. It really is a short guide. Much of it espouses the message you might expect: "Life is short. Enjoy it, and be grateful." Fairly cliché, I suppose, although it's a cliché because it's true, and it's a reminder that I imagine most of us could use on a regular basis. I was finding it to be a nice, little read - a little obvious, but nice - and then I reached the final anecdote, and something in me shifted.
Over the last two short pages (spoiler alert), Quindlen shares a story about meeting a homeless man on the boardwalk at Coney Island. As they sit by the sea, legs dangling over the side of the boardwalk, he tells her about his life: panhandling on the boulevard, hiding from the police amid the carnival rides, sleeping in a church on cold nights. But most of the time, he explains, he spends his days sitting on the boardwalk, even in the cold. "Why?" Quindlen asks. Staring out at the ocean, he replies: "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."
I sat on my couch in silence, legs dangling over the side, and looked at the view. A view I've seen a thousand times but on that morning, it looked different.
The laundry that needs to be folded. Light bulbs that need changed. My silly-eyed banister. How lucky I am to have laundry to fold and light bulbs to change. How lucky I am to have little people to make giggle with silly eyes.
The beautiful little table that was in our dining room growing up. The ballot box my eldest daughter set up so we can nominate others for their good deeds and kindnesses. Photos of my girls when they were babies. Beauty and love to greet all who arrive.
The green couch and chair my ex-husband and I bought 15 years ago, our first real adult purchase. I was 23 and he was 24 and we were over the moon to have just bought a house, and that couch and chair were the only real grown-up furniture in it. I've been longing to get rid of that old couch but that morning, I thought about that exciting time in our lives, and the hours I later spent sitting on that couch nursing my babies. I thought of the moments when they learned how to climb up on to that couch. I'm not so eager to get rid of it anymore.
And the blanket over top of it, crocheted by my mom. Hours of love knotted together.
The paintings my daughters made the other week and more photos of their beautiful smiles. The antique wooden box with the hearts, the only thing I've ever purchased at an auction. I outbid a fancy old lady and it was empowering. The lantern from my grandparents' farmhouse, and the weird metal object with the balancing acrobats that was the only thing of my grandmother's that I wanted when she passed. We used to play with it every time we went to her house as kids. I think of her every time I see it. Or do I? I fear that on too many days I don't see the view and this love and beauty and these stories are just another part of the landscape, a backdrop to preoccupations.
Over the last few days, this new mantra has stayed with me: "Look at the view."
Navigating snowy streets: Look at the view. Look at the road, but also the view. I have a reliable vehicle to take me home. I can afford gas. I move through this city alone and feel safe. And to top it all off, I have a button in my car that operates technology the sole purpose of which is to keep my bum warm.
Waiting for a medical appointment: Look at the view. I'm fortunate to have medical care. I'm fortunate that I'm not so sick that I need to be rushed in. How grateful I should be for the good fortune to wait.
My snot-nosed daughter climbs into my bed at 3 a.m.: Look at the view. It's not pretty but it's beautiful. My child reaching for me, wanting my comfort. That's better than any dream. That is the dream.
It's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. Life gets busy and a home is a place to be cleaned, the drive and the waiting room just irritating interludes between point A and point B. And the snot-nosed kid is wiping her face on your pillow and disrupting a glorious night's sleep. But take a moment today to look at the view. Because my god, the forest is beautiful.
From my spot on the saggy green couch, I see the coffee table that my sister and I would hide under and dance on top of as kids, a stage that now belongs to two other wee sisters. The TV table that my father-in-law made, which has scratches on top, fossils from a plastic dinosaur party. The cushions my girls leaned against the other week, reading stories to each other. The stained carpet that ordinarily makes me cringe...but I have a home to live in, and money for food, and tiny grubby feet to trample it.
And I see the sunshine. I woke up to another day. Another beautiful day.