In my martial arts school this week, we’ve been helping the kids learn the meaning of the word “gratitude.” Besides telling them what it means and asking them to tell us things they are thankful for, we’ve been pointing out that part of the correct mindset when bowing to an instructor or another student is an attitude of gratitude.
So it was really nice to get a lesson in gratitude from someone who might appear to be a lot less fortunate than I. My work has put me in contact with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living lately, and being around people with disabilities who are happy, productive, and working hard to make their lives better has been really inspiring. However, just by chance I found myself sitting next to a guy who is completely paralyzed from the waist down, and overheard him say this to the woman sitting next to him, also in a wheelchair (he talked for about 20 minutes, so I’m doing my best to share the spirit of what he said in a few words):
“The number of blessings each of us has is virtually unlimited. You can breathe, right?” The woman nodded. “When you’re relaxed, you breathe gently, right? When you exert yourself, you breathe more deeply? When you reach your physical limits, your lungs burn with the exertion, and it makes you feel excited to be alive, doesn’t it?” She agreed, looking him right in the eyes. “You’re looking right at me, and you can see who I am, can’t you? You can see color, light, texture, distance, shapes, the smiles of happy people, the fresh skin of children and the skin of the old, etched by time. Your hands can grasp, shake hands, hug, caress, use silverware, and handle a paintbrush. Your mind can plan, imagine, decide, analyze, understand, and wonder. And your heart can feel all the emotions, from anger and sadness to joy, exhilaration, and love.”
She was dabbing at her eyes by the time he stopped talking, and I was so moved by his words that I approached them and introduced myself. It turns out that she was new to the world of disability, and he, being much more experienced in it, was helping to guide her. I think the lesson is one that we all can be taught!