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The Gift of Being Here

Opening the kitchen door to gauge the morning’s suitability for an early walk, I inhaled quickly and held my breath in reverence and awe. Cool refreshing air slid over me after days of stifling heat. Huge, puffy clouds rose in the bright blue sky. Even from my city view, obstructed by buildings, wires, and trees, the clouds with their soft shading of greys were stunning, perfect subjects for an artist’s paint and brush. I climbed the outdoor steps to my apartment neighbors’ landing for a better view.

“This morning might qualify for creating a celebration,” I thought. In her book I’m in Charge of Celebrations,1 Byrd Baylor provides her requirements for such a designation (She’s picky.): It must be something that makes you catch your breath. Something that makes your heart pound. Check and check.

I took a walk. In the clear air, edges of everything – flowers, blades of grass, trees, houses, walls, and rocks – looked crisper. Colors were rich and saturated as they often are after a rain. The sights along my usual route seemed transformed, but more likely, grace had opened my eyes and heart wider.

I thought of Joanna Macy writing in her book, World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Planetary Awakening, that just to be alive in this universe, to participate in its unfolding, is an “inestimable gift.”2 Even in dark times. Dark as they are, I am privileged to live where morning walks are safe, where air is, at least sometimes, clean and clear. Walking, I thought about those whose experiences of the world are drastically different than mine, where morning walks aren’t safe. People who are oppressed just for the color of their skin, their accents, their sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Those struggling with poverty.  They are here, in my city and around the world.

Some are experiencing drought or flood. Some endure wars or personal violence. And many desiring to find a safer place have nowhere to go. No welcoming arms open to receive them.

Do those who struggle and suffer, who were born in a war-torn part of the planet, do they think being alive is an “inestimable gift,” no matter how hard or unfair their lives seem to be? If I were in their place, would I?

My monk friend would agree with Macy, crisis times or not, life is a treasured gift, and there are choices. At eighty-plus years old, he is grateful to live and participate in what he calls “this special time.” One can choose to live it with eyes open to the beauty and magnificent mystery of our universe while still seeing the shadow side. Or choose to live in ways that contribute to the transformation of this country into a more just place and to be part of global efforts to building a better world.

Amazing mornings like yesterday jolt me into both: gratitude for the gift of being part of this awe-inspiring universe and resolve to make a difference, however small, with the time I have been given to live in it.

1. Byrd Baylor, I’m in Charge of Celebrations
2. Joanna Macy, from her book, World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Planetary Awakening as quoted in Grounding in Gratitude

©2021 Mary van Balen

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