Gratitude. It’s a delicate business. The practice of rewiring your brain to infuse yourself with more positive than negative. Think of 3 things everyday you are grateful for and watch your life change.
The work is certainly anything but easy. You are left wondering, “Am I less stressed? Do I have more peace within? Can I truly feel the “gratefulness?” That’s what happens to me. Being mindful in gratefulness is both calming and exhausting. Being grateful each day doesn’t make the world full of rainbows and butterflies. It makes your world present and real.
Yesterday I made the journey to Watkins Glen State Park. I’ve lived in Western New York for over 20 years and I finally took a trip out to Seneca Lake.
I attempted this getaway in the beginning of September…but the universe had other plans and I actually got a flat tire on the Thruway exit. That was also the time I was on my “life sabbatical.” Things were just tough then. So yesterday was “Take 2.”
And…it was the right next step this time around. I was going for all the right reasons. I prayed before I left. I began with a prayer of thankfulness for this new day. I asked God to fill me up with as much love as he could. I prayed for hope, joy and an open heart. With that…I was on my way.
Yesterday was the perfect fall day. It was unseasonably warm, which was a welcomed surprise with all the rain we had this week.
Now…if you are one who believes in magic and miracle like I do, then you’ll understand my story.
It is quite a spectacular work of Mother Nature. Gorges. Waterfalls. Magnificent. Unlike my hiking trips in the mountains, walks along a gorge are slow and mindful. I breathe in everything. Observe the finest of details with a gentle eye. Wonders are all around you…if you just stop, slow down and notice them.
My favorite time of a season is actually when it nears the end. The crowds die down and all you hear are the songs of soothing water and falling leaves. There were other visitors there today but few and far between.
As I was hiking along the Gorge Trail, there seemed to be little bits of magic everywhere. To the typical visitor who is passing by, you might have missed these moments. I guess that’s one of the benefits of traveling alone. Instead of being lost in conversation (which sometimes is a good thing!), you are left with silence and your own internal thoughts.
Little bits of magic here and there….
As I was taking this next picture, I noticed an elderly couple stopping nearby. The older gentlemen was telling a story to his wife. He was pointing to the fallen leaves in the gorge and referencing the methodic flow of the rushing water.
I sat there, quietly setting up my shot, listening to his story. He was telling a story of two people who loved coming and walking the gorge every season. How his favorite thing was nature’s strength that creates these awesome, unbelievable wonders. Powerful enough to carve out gorges hundreds of feet high. The lady in his story, however, thrived on the simple beauty. The way the fallen leaves looked like autumn sprinkles on the rocks. How she loved the pure beauty of the flowing water, cleansing the slabs of stone as it passed by. She respected the power of water, he told.
The husband continued his storytelling, and again, to a passerby who was walking along, you may not have noticed. You wouldn’t have heard her responses to him, as if she didn’t know who he was. You wouldn’t have seen the loving, devoted, understanding look in his eyes, knowing she didn’t remember.
“That’s so lovely,” she replied to her husband. “They must have been nice people.”
My heart sank. My heart prayed. I closed my eyes and prayed for thankfulness. And then I did something some would consider strange, but I tried something I read about in Kerry Egan’s book, On Living. She is a hospice chaplain and her book is profoundly beautiful. You should read it if you get a chance.
Kerry imagines a bubble of love surrounding her and who she is helping. And for some reason, in that moment at the gorge, when I closed my eyes to pray a prayer of thankfulness for this couple, I imagined a giant bubble of my prayer, my open heart with love, encompass the elderly couple and myself.
I know that sounds crazy but that’s what I did.
And that’s when I heard her voice whisper “Jim, Jim..”
I opened my eyes and looked at the couple. His wife was holding his face with her hands, saying his name. He responded with a sweet, calm voice as not to startled her, “That’s right sweetheart. I’m right here.”
She began telling him all about the leaves and how she loved how they looked like autumn sprinkles showering the rocks below.
And that’s when I stopped what I was doing altogether. Now I’m not saying that my prayer brought this beautiful woman out of her dementia for a few moments. I am not God, nor do I pretend to possess such qualities. But I also do not believe in coincidence either. I believe that having a grateful heart is truly a magnets for miracles.
A miracle is what I was graced to witness.
He had a camera and was taking her picture. So I slowly approached the husband and asked if he would like me to take a picture of them. Which I did.
It took everything in me not to cry in this moment. I didn’t want the husband to know I overheard. But a few tears escaped and rolled down my cheek anyway.
Afterwards, I handed his camera back, looked at this beautiful couple…”God bless you both. Enjoy the rest of this magical beauty,” I said to the them.
It was time for me to move on and leave them in their private peace. As I walked away, tears poured out of me in buckets.
“A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.”
Watkins Glen overflows with serenity and tiny magical moments. So onward I sauntered to breathe them all in…
Some more spectacular simplicities of Mother Nature:
The day was peaceful and serene. It was the next right step for me to take…
Change your perspective and you’ll find miracles all around. I found myself gazing up above me, crouching down low, examining nature closely in every way possible. And as others passed by me, while I was kneeling down low for this shot of the leaves, they looked at me funny. Or maybe that was just my perception. Like, “Look at this crazy girl, kneeling on the wet leaves to just take a picture of the “wet leaves.”
But instead, what I saw was a brilliantly, quilted blanket covering the bare path below. I wondered what this trail looked like in the summer…bare and exposed. The leaves? Well they were ground’s protection as we all enjoyed the saunter along its home. I can’t wait to come back here in winter, when the world is even more breathtakingly beautiful to witness.
At the end of the Indian Trail, if you hike up the Gorge Trail first, and hike down this way…the trail splits. One way continues along the gorge. The other takes you up a hill and into this incredible cemetary. My photograph does not bring justice to this moment. Chills covered my body. “Wow…” I whispered. There was definitely a strong presence here. I felt both at complete peace and full of sadness. A feeling of gratitude for this day filled my soul. There was appreciativeness in my heart for the miracles I have experienced.
But as I remained still in reflection, feeling the fall breeze grace my cheeks, a feeling of sadness came over me. I thought about the elderly couple…about other hikers I passed. I was the only one alone. Even the older women I saw were with each other. Everyone had someone to share the day with…and maybe every day with.
And in this day full of magic and beauty, I stood there and wondered, “Am I going to die alone?” Yes, I know this is a kind of heavy thought to include in my blog. And I promise I will go back to writing about my mountain climbs and races and life’s victories. But writers write about what they know and feel, and what they want to know more about.
So this was the question that came to mind…and I didn’t ignore it. I didn’t tell myself I was crazy for thinking it or feeling it. I stood there. In silence. And stayed with it. Wondering…would I have someone to bring me back to all the places I love, when my memory begins to leave me?
After leaving the glen, I went down to the pier at Seneca Lake. I was walking along the dock when I noticed a wedding in progress. (I blurred the picture on purpose for privacy.)
More miracles. Right after I left feeling both at peace and sadness, I found myself on a bench by the healing water, witnessing another miracle. The couple was smiling from ear to ear. The bride’s mother was the only witness and taking pictures with her cell phone. I listened with an open heart. Imagine how difficult this moment could be for me, a woman who has gone through divorce and was wondering if she was meant to go through this life alone.
But that was not at all what I was feeling…I was filled with love and joy. A heartfelt smile graced my face as I listened to the exchange of vows, as I observed the pure joy pouring out of this couple. I clapped at the end of the ceremony, and the couple turned around and giggled. It was precious.
And as I walked out on the jetti…I thanked God again for this lesson.
‘A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.” The gratitude is not based on conditions..”I’ll have a grateful heart as long as…” No. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, what I was shown was that you can feel love, have your body be filled to the brim with it, and you’re alone. Miracles. Magic. Maybe not the way we envision it, but when you pray in the morning, before your day begins, to be filled with love. Then that’s what He will show you, if you are willing go out there with an open heart and an open soul.
One of the things about traveling alone is that I spend a lot of time observing people. And more often than not, I am witness to beautiful little miracles. The way he touches her shoulder, after the years have gone one. The conversation among friends that brings laughter be smiles to all faces. The “Hello, How are you?” friendly nod from other visitors. The sanctified peace that fills fellow lone travelers like myself.
And with that, I took myself out for a drink and a delicious meal at Graft Wine & Cider Bar.
May you have love in your life that brings magic and miracles. Like Roald Dahl says, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”