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Something From Everything  

You get to choose

“Who do you want to be?”

I ask myself this, as I’m staring out the window into a sky of endless grey. It’s early morning and uncharacteristically cold for April.

I’ve put on my sweatpants and running hoodie, stuffed my back pocket with a plastic grocery bag, and picked up the braided leash.

I’ve even laced up my worn Adidas, complete toes peeking through the torn mesh. My dog sees the cues and bolts down the stairs, bashing the wooden screen door open with his nose.

From the front yard, my dog looks back at me curiously, his head cocked slightly to the side. Why have I not come through the door? He requires no convincing. I require a little.

“Who do you want to be?” I ask myself again, this time pointedly.

I know the answer. I want to have a clearer head. I want to be stronger. I want to be a few pounds lighter.

(And I want to guiltlessly eat a donut of my choosing when I meet my friend at a downtown bakery that afternoon).

“Fine.”

The resistant me relents. The me that wants to sit on the couch, turn on the fireplace and drink coffee sulks a little, but he’ll get over it.

The me that wants to run has already started planning the route.

When I step out the door, I’m able to see my breath dissipate in front of me. My meagre running shirt does little to keep the cold at bay, but I know that will change soon enough.

I turn on my running app, cue up my music (that day the eternal voice of Gord Downie), and begin.

The start down the road from my house and soon turn off of concrete and down a muddy path where deep rivets have formed in the previous week’s warmer weather.

This morning they are frozen hard, and I have to watch my footing for risk of turning an ankle. It takes me a few minutes before I stop noticing the cold in my fingers. As long and regular as the initial strides are, it takes a while for them to feel natural.

Eventually, I settle into my body. Begin to be where I actually am.

  • Now I am passing a marshland near my child’s elementary school.
  • Now I am under tall and unwieldy aspen trees, their long white fingers reaching upward, backed by endless hues of grey.
  • Now I am running along a quiet road, passing under a falcon perched upon a power line. He tracks me as I pass beneath him before unfurling his wings and taking off.

The path I’ve chosen winds up into the nearby hills, and I’m already slowing to a walk to catch my breath. I set a point in the near distance.

“This far, then I start running again,” I tell myself, breathlessly. I do this a few times. It’s humbling as I continually tell myself that that was the last walking break, only to stop again a few heart pounding minutes later.

But I am still moving forward, upward.

Suddenly my running app announces my distance per minute speed. It is atrocious, but I am over halfway. The incline that I have been slowly and steadily climbing suddenly becomes a boon.

I turn around, and the slow, stunted steps of climbing become full, powerful strides once again. I begin to pick up speed.

By the time, I hit my next marker I am nearly sprinting. My heart is beating so hard I can feel it in my head, the music pulsing and obscured by each beat.

I finish my run next to the marsh where I started, and as I remove the earbuds, I am enveloped in birdsong, as quail scuttle for shelter in the bushes beside me, and red wing black birds flit between tree and cattail, their trill call and answer surrounding me.

Despite the running times, despite the grey, despite the cold. It is a sublime moment. A gift, or more precisely, a series of gifts. And for once, I’m grateful for each and every contribution that I am aware of. Grateful for it all.

I’m not often so grateful.

I would like to be. I know that I should be.

Gratitude can feel like a quaint thing these days. A luxury that living in a pandemic does not afford us.

“Sure, it’s good to be grateful, but have you seen these numbers? These variants? These restrictions?”

In the backdrop of the past year and a half, gratitude can appear a mindset for the privileged and ignorant.

Many of us have defaulted to scepticism. How could we not? How can we be assaulted daily with fear and not squint suspiciously at the coming days? Our arms folded tightly across our chest.

We become caught in the trap of vetting this world, weighing it, waiting to see if it is truly good, really worthy of our gratitude.

And in the meantime, we are missing out. Missing the gifts that are continually given, just beneath our notice.

Our cynicism and scepticism may be understandable, but they are not compatible with gratitude. You cannot hold both at the same time.

Go ahead, try it. Attempt to be grateful for someone or something you mistrust. I haven’t managed it yet. It’s a different internal posture.

A friend and writer I admire, Liz Adamshick, has a gratitude practice that she posts online, nearly every day. She writes how she is grateful for “the fresh cut orange next to my morning tea,” or “freeing some saplings of grapevines and blackberry stalks,” or “skillet fried potatoes with a light touch of Dijon mayo.”

Can you feel that? Taste and smell it? See how specific it is? My friend has discovered the same simple secret that the poet David Whyte was speaking of in his essay, Gratitude: that “gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention.”

The details matter. Now, more than ever. If it is hard to be grateful for the whole thing, focus on just being grateful for a part.

  • A specific part.
  • The slice of orange.
  • The skillet potatoes.
  • Your dog’s eager playfulness.
  • The voice of your child.
  • Even the grey mornings, worn out sneakers and each slowly drawn breath.

All of these are gifts, if we can receive them. For what is a gift, but something given, and something received?

Our world will continue to offer sunrise and sunset, aspen trees reaching out towards the sky, falcons taking off in flight above us. The glory of our world is that it just keeps offering, regardless of our responses.

We get to decide if these are gifts. With our eyes wide open to the particulars, we get to choose if we will be cynical, or grateful.

So who do you want to be?

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

 

Matthew Rigby is a grateful husband to one, and father to three. He works as a registered nurse in emergency care, and has spent more than 15 years in healthcare. 

Matt, an avid reader and podcast enthusiast, is committed to great questions and honest discovery.

You can find his podcast "Something From Everything" wherever you listen, and find all his writing at www.somethingfromeverything.com.

You can contact Matthew at [email protected]



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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