“Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts” – Alan Cohen
Sometime this month, I stumbled on the story of a lady who’d just lost one of her legs. The trauma was so bad she looked forward to what many would consider a nightmare – running in her dreams. It was her escape form the reality of life without one limb; something that brought her brief comfort – until she woke.
The best I could do as I read the words was empathize – but it was absolutely impossible to fully understand the true extent of her ordeal. Such loss really is just not something even the most masterful words can aptly convey. I gave some thought to it, nonetheless.
In fact, the thought was still warm on my mind when I stumbled on the most hilariously sarcastic message I had seen in a while. It was a notice in an office parking lot (signed by the ‘less ignorant occupants of the building’) chiding those without disabilities with a habit of parking in spaces for the less able. “…….if you’re fortunate enough to be in good health and have no disabilities, we would suggest that you leave this space vacant for those who actually require it. I’m sure the short walk from other spaces will not delay your activities too much”.
It was a fun read that evoked some mischief. But, as soon as that wave blew past, I was left facing a striking paradox: while the able-bodied seek an escape from the ‘stress’ of their abilities, the less than able constantly wish they had such trouble. That notice took me back to the story of the amputee lady; an attempt to understand the resounding contradiction. And, though I’m no closer to understanding the full weight of her pains, her story provides insight into the aftertaste of loss – and how it can radically change the way we accord value.
Could be that she also once parked in spaces for the disabled – to reduce the distance she had to walk to work. Maybe she always considered jogging a chore. But now, all of a sudden, she gets the most joy from dreams of running.
Mighty funny how we tend to take the mundane things for granted. Almost like we’re saving our mental faculties for the things that actually count – the ones that spice up our lives. But we often fail to realize the actual value of the mundane. Without them, everything would spice up (actually, interrupt) our lives – and we’ll find ourselves grossly unable to keep up.
Imagine resuming at a new office every day. Suppose that your gender changes daily based on whether you wake on your chest or back. Or that the sun and moon daily decide if to shine at all – and which to go first. Picture having a full meal of varied spices! Think of how crazy life would be if we had nothing to take for granted. “Mundane” is not there to make life boring. It’s actually the mandatory assurance that affords the luxury of fun.
Sadly, the irreparable consequence of having things to take for granted is that we scarcely value them as much as the ‘really fun’ stuff. Our legs are an eternal part of us (or so we think) so we rather put our thoughts (and funds) towards those new shoes. The sun will always shine, anyways; we can concentrate on finding a matching tie. But, what if the very guarantee the mundane provides is suddenly taken away?
The retiree wakes up to find his world thoroughly altered by the once welcome notion of retirement. She finds even the hated things about office routine were more critical to her sanity than she ever noticed. That’s when he realizes he’d rather be stuck in traffic with the most noxious of drivers than forever confined to a rocking armchair. That’s when she begins to accord value in hindsight to the things she once despised. It’s like Passenger said: “you only need the light when it’s burning low”. More like, we only realize how much we need it when it’s burning low. Such is the aftertaste of loss. We always needed it; we just always assumed it’ll stay bright forever.
This idea took on a new dimension a few days ago, when I had the worst fight ever with the ‘best’ friend ever. I found myself saying words I never thought I could piece together. Of course, logical as I like to think I am – through the noble or ignoble – I ran the encounter through a standard checklist when the dust settled. Was I high or drunk? Was there sufficient provocation? Was the response proportional? It all seemed justifiable by the standard. So, black or white, it was the ‘right’ thing to do. But, in a world where grey’s many shades now take turns on stage, some things are just not as clear-cut! I knew deep down that I had missed a turn. But, the list of things I had taken for granted was much longer than I knew – and that became clearer in the days that followed.
Two interesting things happened at soccer the next day. First, was with the phone. It was my dream phone – even after owning it. But I had gradually stopped appreciating it for all its worth. Its entire existence was now summarized into two things: solid build; crappy camera. But that morning, it got wedged by a shutting car door.
As it fell to the ground, winced in pain and let out its final breath, its true worth took centre-stage again. It had literally become a part of my mind. Trapped within the smashed face and mangled torso were details – schedules, information, contacts, ideas, conversations – I couldn’t be bothered to remember because the phone did. I stopped bothering with backups long ago; it just seemed invincible. Now that it was gone, I realized the long list of things I should have appreciated it for. Scarcely any time to mourn it, though; kickoff was imminent. And, it was during the game that the point to all this really hit home.
I had tried for months to move up to the next weight-class. But every time I got close, something happened to drop me back to my long-time average. Naturally, I begun to see myself as chronically underweight – regardless of what the scale said. But, when the team striker walked up to me and said ‘I wish I had legs like yours’, it helped me see the whole situation in different light. I hadn’t paused to think how weight gain would affect my mobility. It was another clear case of me discounting what I had – in the quest for ‘newer/better/different’ or simply to make a ragingly misguided point.
Staring now at what’s left of the phone, there’s no wavering as to the point of it. Huge loss, no doubt – but a canned phone can always be fixed or replaced; even the ensuing financial distress can be pacified. Some losses – if reversible at all – are, however, not as easy. Spoken words never go back, and some wounds can take an eternity to heal. Rebuilding a burnt bridge, while being the infinitely harder task, is definitely the higher path. That’s clearer to me now than ever. We never fully appreciate what we have till it’s gone!