Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pictures with Burnt Edges - Gratitude in the Aftermath of Southern California Wildfires

Blessings Among the Devastation - Sincerest GRATITUDE

Last night I happened to catch the last half of a show on PBS, "So Cal Connected". People that once lived in the mobile home park in Sylmar California were interviewed as they searched through the charred ashes of what used to be their homes.

Tears welled up in my eyes, as I reflected on so much I take for granted. When I arrive home from work every day, my home is still standing. One hundred years worth of family photographs are still intact. My computer is still here. My clothes are still hanging in the closet, along with my shoes and drawers filled with other items. And, all the "stuff" and "junk" that is so unnecessary. Things - just things - just material "stuff" that is kept - just because. Why do we keep so much? Why do we feel we need "stuff" to compliment and complete our lives?

These victims of the Sylmar fire were such an inspiration. Imagine, after all they've been through, going back to the devastation - the site where their homes once stood that now looks like a war zone - simply in hopes of finding even one special memory amongst the rubble.

Seeing it on the news is tragic enough. But, I drive by it each morning on my way to work. Trust me when I say it's much more upsetting to actually see it.

And, yet, as painful and sad as it was for them, their spirits were admirable. Yes, they were heartbroken, but they maintained a sense of gratitude that shone brightly beyond their unhappiness.

"I found my grandfather's rings", cried one woman, with such appreciation in her voice.

Another man was amazed at his discovery. He held up his burnt photo albums with a huge smile on his face. As he opened the albums, tears streamed down his cheeks and you could just feel the joy that filled his heart. The photos inside the albums had been saved. Some had burnt edges, but the pictures were in
good condition. "Look at this", he exclaimed, "the color is still in the pictures!"

Each person I saw was incredibly filled with gratitude for each tiny memory they had been able to find. Instead of being angry for their huge losses, they were thankful for the little bit they still had. It wasn't much. But, as insignificant as one might imagine, when these items are hidden between the layers of "stuff" in our homes and in our lives, these finds were genuine treasures to these people.

Then the host of this documentary explained that fires are nature's way of cleaning the earth. This is just something that happens. In urban America we've managed to cram ourselves into neighborhoods without allowing room for these natural fires to occur, without horrific loss.

Just as many of these fire victims said, "We cannot focus on what WAS or what we HAD, but we must move forward and go on with our lives."

We all have frustrating days. We become annoyed or angry with others who get in our way. We easily manage to find things to complain about. We allow such trivial situations to invade our serenity. We become offended at what others do or say, rather than shake it off. Anger sometimes fills our thoughts, just because something didn't go exactly as we wanted it to. And, often, we gripe and grumble because we WANT MORE. Sometimes it seems we never have enough. But, in reality, we have so much - much more than these people now have - much more than we need - and so much for which to be thankful.

What is something that bothered you today? If nothing bothered you today, that's great! But, what is the last thing that caused you distress? Was it truly as significant as the illusion in your mind? Or was it inconsequential in the big scheme of things. How important was it - REALLY?

Society has conditioned us to believe that we must find perpetual happiness. Think about the messages that are being sent to our subconscious with TV commercials and magazine ads. But, that's just not reality. Nothing is perfect. And, everything is temporary. While we will experience happiness, we must also experience unpleasant events and feelings.

When we understand and accept this concept, our lives will have less suffering and more contentment.

We will discover "the photo with the burnt edges", secretly hidden within the displeasure, irritation or annoyance - or even deep within tragedy, depression or misery.

What are you grateful for in this one

NOW temporary moment?