With the arrival of the crazy pre-Christmas chaos that creates traffic jams, overcrowded supermarkets, frayed tempers, and untold family stress in an overly hyped commercial world, I pressed the pause button to give myself time to reflect.
I took a faithful friend, my old digital camera, with me on a walk near sunset along the pohutukawa-lined foreshore that I look over as I type. How grateful I am for this view and place to walk where peace and serenity erases from my mind the frantic Christmas rush in downtown Whangarei.
In New Zealand we call the pohutukawa our Christmas tree because of their fine red flowers that bloom just before Christmas. With the sun descending to sit atop the distant hills before retiring for the night, the red flowers glowed as if on fire and I happily clicked away, forgetting all about my own pre-Christmas upset and stress and the usual memories of loss and grief it brings up.
I am grateful every day for my view, and to live by the sea in a place that reminds me of the oasis I lived in during many sunburnt summer months in Australia. The sanctuary I left there, with some regret, has been returned to me here in New Zealand with the added gift of the sea at the bottom of the garden. And I came upon it quite by chance. Some would say ‘luck’ when I suddenly found myself with nowhere to live. But that’s another story.
Out in the harbor a lone sailing dinghy struggles to stay upright in a very stiff wind. It reminds me of the exhilaration, and challenge, of my experiences sailing in storms or high winds. During winter I can watch the start of yacht races from my window.
All year round yachts, launches, ferries, fishing boats, and an odd assortment of other sea-going vessels sail or motor past on their way in or out of Whangarei. There are also many foreign yachts that have crossed the Pacific from America or Europe that cross my view.
My mind then wanders back to days I sailed this stretch of water, and the time I left Whangarei and returned from a five-month sailing trip to Tonga and Fiji. I can’t help but smile to myself, grateful for the experience of a lifetime where everywhere I looked could be blue during the day, with the stars shining brilliant at night with no electric lights in sight. Oh the joy it brought swimming with the Humpback whales in Tonga, listening to them singing through the steel-hulled yacht, or having a whale surface right next to us as if to say ‘hello’.
I sold just about everything I owned to go on that sailing trip, including my car. I traded a bottle of whisky for an old laptop so I could continue to write. Along the way I also wrote about this trip of a lifetime and what I learned, grateful for the learning – even if some of it was not pleasant. It is material for another book.
Upon my return I was lucky to buy an old car at an auction at a price I could afford. In 16 years my now 29-year-old car has never left me stranded. I am immensely grateful for its reliability, comfort, and ability to safely handle rough roads – even in New Zealand’s remote high country, where I spent a year teaching.
I am even more grateful for the time I have given myself to write and research something that has concerned me for years: the ripple effect of child abuse. Connecting the dots with the understanding of cause and effect is a gift I can give that will hopefully continue giving – not only in terms of new understanding, but hope of a better tomorrow for those who struggle daily with toxic shame that keeps them stuck in poverty on many levels.
My experiences have shown me that no matter how poor or broken a person is, if he or she can look with gratitude at some of their life experiences and what they learned, or within themselves for special qualities or maybe talents waiting to be developed, or outwardly at nature and all it has to offer us in each and every moment, then gratitude becomes a gift that keeps on giving each and every time we stop to reflect on what we have in this present moment rather than what we don’t have. Gratitude brings peace of mind, a smile to one’s lips, and a softening of the heart. And that’s a gift many rich folk will never have!
And the best part is that it is absolutely free.
And even better, we can then share with others the good feelings generated by our gratitude, which to my mind is one of the best gifts we can give.
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