Last night was a bad night. I awoke at 1.30 a.m. and tossed and turned for hours, worrying thoughts chasing themselves around my brain to the point of despair. Worry about the invoice for the dental implants I had two weeks ago and the difficult conversation I was going to have to face to sort out what I consider to be unjust charges. Worry about the tall tree on the other side of the fence close to my house in the neighbor’s garden, my fear that because it’s a ‘trash’ tree it could topple and do huge damage to my house. Worry about the recent leak I had in my roof, now fixed, but just today I noticed that plaster is falling off a downstairs ceiling and upon inspection with a flashlight I see what looks like black mold in there. And of course dominating my mind, and everyone’s at this time, is the Covid 19 situation in our country and in the world. On and on and on the thoughts came fast and furious, galloping like wild horses thudding in my head, and much as I tried to focus on my breathing and thoughts of peace, I couldn’t.
Until I let my mind go back over my life (oh, I was also worrying about being old and dying alone and indulging in other self-pitying thoughts), and then I started to remember, re-member, days and events from my past. I felt again the happiness, excitement, challenges of so many adventures lived in so many different parts of the world, experiencing again, decades later, an intense feeling of being alive. Rappelling down a hundred seventy foot dry waterfall in the Sinai desert, feeling again the terror as I took that first step over the edge of the abyss, followed almost immediately by elation and euphoria that I’d overcome my fear, and the joy I felt during my descent as I examined the small ferns and plants growing in the crevices. Diving in the Indian ocean among gardens of giant multi-colored clams, surrounded by the graceful flowing forms of Manta rays. Sitting on the black volcanic beach on the island of Stromboli, holding up golden grapes to catch the rays of the setting sun. Seeing the Taj Mahal floating on the silvery beams of a full moon. Celebrating my first July 4th holiday in the U.S.A. with a midnight picnic and a swim in the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska, with the sun barely dipping toward the horizon before starting its ascent again. Holding in my arms the new-born child, just a few hours old, of a young friend of mine, blown away by the perfection of this tiny new life.
Then my mood swung to regret. Regret that at the moment of living through those intense moments, I had not felt the appreciation and gratitude that I felt for them as I lay in my bed last night. If only I had felt back then what I felt last night. Then consolation of a sort came. It’s not too late to start now. I can still be fully present in each precious moment of life, however seemingly unimportant it may appear, however trivial, and be grateful and appreciative of them, and of the times that still lie ahead of me. The smiles and hugs of all the children on my block who call me “Nonna”, Italian for grandmother. Sharing a cappuccino in my kitchen with a friend, sipping from my English grandmother’s beautiful hand-painted bone china cups. The ongoing gratitude when I am out in my garden working the soil, communing with my beloved plants, listening to birdsong, harvesting my tomatoes and eggplants with appreciation and amazement. Not to mention the beautiful music that feeds my soul and soothes my spirit. So much still lies ahead to enjoy and for which to give abundant thanks. The secret perhaps lies in being fully present in the ‘now’, because that is all we ultimately have.
And on this happy note I fell asleep, and I had a dream that reflected those thoughts. In the dream I was seated at a square table with three other people, whom I did not know, and I felt, in that moment, in the dream, the gratitude and joy I had been thinking about in my waking state. So I reached out and grasped the hands of the two people on either side of me until we were all holding hands, and I looked at each of them and said out loud, “Thank you for this moment of beauty and joy that we are sharing.”
When I woke up this morning my heart was full and I was at peace, able as never before to relish the ‘now’, to be in the moment, and to appreciate the gift of life and love. There is so much evidence of love all around us if we can only see it, and when we step into that river of love we become part of the creative power of life. Creation is ongoing and we are all co-creators in our own reality and the greater collective reality. Those poignant thoughts culled from sleepless hours last night reminded me that the two main pillars that support our happiness are acceptance and gratitude. And those thoughts led me to remember the justly famous prayer written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I would say that in retrospect this was a pretty rich harvest for a few hours of tossing and turning, and as the world is going through great turmoil, these words of wisdom are particularly relevant, and of comfort to me.
Not such a bad night after all.