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When I was 15, I went on a river trip with my younger brother, older sister, her then-fiancee, and a family friend, Larry, with two of his children. For roughly one and a half days, we floated peacefully down the Green River in Utah through the most picturesque red rock landscape with only the occasional wildlife for company. I spent hours laying on my back, floating downstream, watching the trees pass overhead and feeling more peaceful than I'd ever felt in my life. We stopped on a shoreline and dug our toes into the mud; my sister (a budding filmmaker) recorded it all on her vintage video camera. I fell asleep in the raft while it rained lightly, woke up under an umbrella and read a beat-up second-hand copy of "Valley of the Dolls" wrapped in a plastic bag, and waited for the sun to reappear. It was heaven.

And then came the mosquitoes. 

We found out later that the mosquitoes on the river that weekend were the worst they'd been in a hundred years. It may as well could have been a thousand years, or a million. We were sure that the mosquitoes were the worst they'd been since the dawn of time, and that they were emissaries of satan himself sent to torture us. I can't remember how many mosquito bites we each got, but we did take the time to count them once we'd gotten safely home. Hundreds, I'm sure, and I'm truly not exaggerating. Our peaceful river trip had become a gauntlet of torture and pain, each stinging bite taking us further away from the reverie we had so enjoyed at the beginning of our trip. Night fell and we made camp as far away from the water as we could manage, burrowing deep into sleeping bags and zipping the tent closed tightly. It helped a minimal amount, and the adults chose to stay awake to look after us miserable kids. 
Still, we had precious few hours of fitful sleep before it became too much to bear and we gave up.

We packed up camp and got back on the river as soon as the sky began to lighten, hoping to make it to our exit point as soon as possible and get home to tend our wounds. Everyone seemed miserable, grumbling and complaining about the pain, the lack of sleep, each other... anything was cannon fodder at that point. And then from ahead I heard a loud cry of what I assumed to be frustration, but what turned out to be joy. 

In the raft ahead of me, Larry called out a series of gratitude unlike anything I'd ever encountered. "I love this river! I love this sky! I love this view! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" It went on for a number of minutes. At first, my jaw dropped, bewildered, wondering if he was being facetious or ironic. There certainly could be no cause for joy at such a miserable moment in all of our lives. However, it slowly dawned on me that not only was he being genuine, he was right.

The water, although swarming with thousands of mosquitoes, was certainly clear and beautiful. The sky was filling quickly with sunlight and becoming a gorgeous shade of sapphire- not just blue, but sapphire! The view was not to be underestimated- the red of the rocks set against the green of the trees and the sapphire sky... suddenly every color seemed to enhance and heighten the others, every tree and cloud seemed imbued with a new kind of beauty; even the mosquitoes seemed to let up for a few minutes to let us enjoy the truly breathtaking sights. More likely, we just stopped noticing them.

That was the first moment in my life I began to understand the power of gratitude, especially at the unlikeliest of times. John "Halcyon" Styn (http://JohnStyn.com), love warrior, leader of http://Hugnation.com, and Burning Man enthusiast, talks often about the concept of "crap or cone." Basically it states that at all moments you have two things going on- you have a delicious ice cream cone in one hand, and a big piece of poop on your shoe. It's where you choose to place your attention that determines how happy you are. You can choose to do many things in that situation, all of which are acceptable, it just depends on how happy you want to be at that moment. You can complain about the crap, you can do something to fix the situation, or you can ignore your shoe for a few minutes and concentrate on the delicious ice cream before it melts. I could go on. 

On the river that morning fifteen years ago, Larry showed us how to enjoy the ice cream cone. There may have been perfectly valid reasons to stay miserable, but unbeknownst to us, there was an entire world filled with little miracles just waiting to light us up and show us how beautiful life can be, anytime, anywhere. And when we placed our attention on those little miracles, the problems seemed to abate for a little while, as if the world was responding to our level of interest. 

I want you to know that, regardless of what miseries you are currently experiencing (and we all are, trust me, you are not alone), there are a multitude of little miracles just waiting for you, waiting to give you rest from your troubles and show you what a beautiful and amazing place the world truly is. Today, if nothing else, I'm grateful for that river morning, watching the sun rise into that sapphire sky and learning for the first time how powerful gratitude can truly be.

I hope you find your cone. Please, tell me about it! I'd love to hear what little miracles you find! Don't ever stop searching.

With love,

Lindsay

 


Comments

Holly
06/12/2012 1:47am

Sometimes I do notice gratitude on the big scale. I remember walking out my front door in the middle of a crystalline winter night and being struck speechless and literally breathless by the sudden sight of Sirius rising huge and piercingly brilliant over the neighbors' roof. I stood there for timeless moments with my jaw actually dropped open and my thoughts stopped in awe, and then I began weeping and thanking as much of Creation as I could bring to mind for the simple but priceless gift I had just been given.

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06/12/2012 6:07am

You truly have a gift for story-telling, Lindsay! I was right there with you, in that grand scenery. And having spent most of my summer holidays up North in Sweden, I know all too well how painful it can get when the mosquitoes start swarming. Crap or cone? It seems an easy choice these days. It didn't use to be... but life has a habit of making us take it things less for granted with each loss. So yeah, CONE, every time!!

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06/15/2012 8:58am

Your story was really great! And it jogged a memory of a summer when I was a kid standing in line waiting to get my ice cream from the ice cream man. On the walk home, I stepped in dog poo. Enjoying the ice cream first made it easier to deal with the poo later. Thanks for the reminder.

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