“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~ Thornton Wilder
Urban Dictionary, an online lexicon of the satirical sort, defines spring break as “a week where all the dumb kids go to Cancun and all the level-headed people get to relax.” I heartily concur with that assessment and am happy to report my story falls in with that second, more level-headed lot.
It was the late ’80s and I was pursuing a degree in finance under Dr. Miller, Dean of the School of Business at WT (now WTAMU). Any student fortunate enough to sit under Jerry Miller’s professorship will recall him as a force to be reckoned with – in all the best of ways. Under his leadership as a full-time student doubling up on classroom hours, I remained on track to complete my undergraduate early and return to my employment with a savings and loan institution.
It’s no wonder then as graduation drew near, my thoughts had been so pushed and pulled, so stretched and taxed (not a pun!) that by the time spring break at last broke on the horizon, few things sounded more appealing to my ears than an invitation to steal away to an all-expense paid vacation in the Bahamas. Albeit, with my mother.
Let me explain.
A Mississippi girl, and by this time an honor-bound Texan since the day of my Amarillo wedding, there were few things I cherished more, then and now, than an opportunity to spend quality time among my family and friends from back home. With my mom – to this day one of my closest friends – always near the top of that list.
Dedicated to her profession in the healthcare industry, Mom had received a coveted award that year, including an all-inclusive trip for two to the islands. A single parent for as long as I can remember, she naturally turned to one of her children to accompany her. And as the one with time on my hands, I became that award’s lucky beneficiary.
Advertised as “a beautiful chain of islands offering stellar beaches, upscale resorts, and waterfront dining amidst the turquoise water stretching as far as the eye can see,” the vacation didn’t disappoint, although not necessarily for the reasons assumed. While we’ve both long forgotten many of the specifics – the name of the hotel, for instance, or even the particular island visited (we still differ on that) – I recall our travels for more than the immediate rest and companionship we so desperately needed. Ultimately, our trip provided me a life-long lesson as well, one on the value of expressed gratitude.
Midway through our stay on those sunny shores, we found ourselves aboard a small ship, seated outside its esteemed restaurant, feasting on a succulent seafood dish one of the locals had recommended. Settled in at our corner table near the water’s edge, we sipped our switcha (lemonade), beneath the brilliant-blue Bahamian skies.
Against this backdrop imagine with me, if you will, suddenly being witness to a host of brightly colored native birds abruptly cascading and dipping into view, a few choosing to light on a freshly cleared table nearby. Delighted but stunned, we watched in stillness, amazed and immediately struck by the stark contrast of our silence against the birds’ lively songs. Not wishing to startle them, but in hopes of capturing the moment forever, I leaned carefully over to retrieve our camera from my shoulder bag. But, wait. There was no camera to be had. Despite my good intentions and checklists, it appeared I’d left our only “recording device” back in the hotel room.
Bear in mind this was long before the cut-and-paste, snap-and-chat digital world we have become so accustomed to in our modern technological society. At that time there were no mobile devices: no iPhones, no iPads, no iPods – in fact, not a single iAnything.
Carpe diem is a phrase I remember first hearing in junior high. A Latin aphorism often translated "seize the day," it’s taken from a poem by Horace in 23 B.C. Carpe translates literally as “pluck”, with particular reference to the picking of fruit. So a more accurate interpretation, we’re told, might be “enjoy the day”, or “pluck the day when it is ripe”. But how, I wondered back then, especially when deprived of any special means? Which brings me back to my “Bahamian Rhapsody in Birding.”
Frantically fingering through my purse one last time, I sighed. After the many days planning and preparing for this trip in tandem, it appeared there would be no capturing of this feathered flock, this postcard-perfect setting we shared. Unless…
Gratitude, it’s been said, is an action, not merely a feeling. An action! What if we were to try and record this experience through gratitude, through a verbal offering up of thanks? And so it was, my mom and I proceeded to record, to mentally videotape, that blessed afternoon through language expressed in thanks. We sang out words like tropical, tranquil, perfect, sugary, sunny, intoxicating, lazy, colorful, cloudless, exotic, cool, warm, lively, breezy, tasty, blessed, togetherness. In no particular order, the words ran on without a care. And in that one action we truly were able to freeze-frame a moment – now 30 years past – that would undoubtedly have been lost otherwise.
Sound overly simplistic? Yes, and that’s the point.
Owing to the impact of this experience I’ve been beholden ever since, often exercising gratitude alone – willingly at times and at others yet still of necessity – in order to best hold fast to things that matter. And you know what? I continue to find it an amazingly accurate means to capture, frame, and process life.
As I write, my mom, 81, sits opposite me (as my dear husband tends and feeds a popping fire between us). She’s been spending a few days with us after a brief hospital stay in cardiac care, followed by a stint of rehab. ‘Mom,’ I slow my typing to ask, ‘Remember that time in the Baham…’ But before I can finish the question, she’s on to me, off and running.
“I remember we were out on the open part and you could see through to the other side. There were some birds flying around, and over to the side there was a tree limb leaning into the boat. Or, may have been the framing, or we sailed up to a tree. I recall several birds were flying around in an open space. Two or three lit on nearby branches. Oh, how peaceful. And we said, ‘Let’s remember this forever. Let’s just put this in our mind and remember it forever.’ It’s just as clearly in my mind as if we had a picture.”
Edgar A. Guest, a prolific English-born American poet born in the 1880s and sometimes referred to as the People’s Poet, expresses it well in his poem:
Gratitude Be grateful for the kindly friends that walk along your way; Be grateful for the skies of blue that smile from day to day; Be grateful for the health you own, the work you find to do, For round about you there are men less fortunate than you. Be grateful for the growing trees, the roses soon to bloom, The tenderness of kindly hearts that shared your days of gloom; Be grateful for the morning dew, the grass beneath your feet, The soft caresses of your babes and all their laughter sweet. Acquire the grateful habit, learn to see how blest you are, How much there is to gladden life, how little life to mar! And what if rain shall fall to-day and you with grief are sad; Be grateful that you can recall the joys that you have had.
These days, finding ourselves in the early throes of an empty nest, you can be sure my husband, Paul, and I are thankful for every priceless picture and video we can put our hands on. But equally treasured to me are those passing moments when I’ve opted to stand in front of the camera instead of behind it, and ask, ‘Hey! What’s right with this picture?’
by Rita Morrow
An inspirational speaker, singer, and comedian performing in 25 states to date, Rita will soon retire in order to spend additional time with her family, scattered hither and yon. She and Paul, married 36 years, enjoy their slow-paced life in Lake Tanglewood on Morrow Mountain, where they relished raising their three fine sons. Rita would like to dedicate this article to her dear father, Harold, and mother, Mary Ellen in Ellisville, Miss.