Radical Gratitude: Day One
Like many people, I keep a daily gratitude journal. It’s a modest little notebook on my bedside table where I jot down five things I’m thankful for, just before I turn out the light.
The items can be general — coffee, laughter, babies — or specific, like the way the sunlight suffused the turning leaves of the vineyard where I walked the dog just before sunset. I stick to the rule of five as a discipline: sometimes I could go on for much longer, and sometimes I have to really dig to hit my target.
There are, of course, nights when I’ve had a hard day, or I’m in a rotten mood, or I’m exhausted at the thought of thinking of five good things, and I’d really just rather turn out the light and go the hell to sleep. Those are the very nights when my gratitude journal comes to my rescue.
The journal is not well-composed or lyrical or even particularly organized. It’s not meant for sharing. I rarely reread my entries. It’s a practice, a coda to my day in the same way morning meditation gets my brain and spirit and temperament hopefully pulling in the same direction before I go join the world.
But today, here at the beginning of the Thanksgiving month in the U.S., it occurred to me that I could go a bit further with this practice. What if, I thought, I called out something every day for the remainder of this month, something worthy of celebration in words?
What if I devoted some attention, every single day, to noticing and registering and recording — here, publicly — whatever unique gift that day brings?
Today, for example. My husband and I live in a small town in California’s wine country. It’s as lovely in most respects as you’d imagine, but its bucolic charm means we are far from certain conveniences we used to take for granted when we lived in more urban areas.
One thing our town lacks, and I forgive you if you can’t summon a lot of sympathy for me here, is a real car wash. We don’t even have one of those perfunctory little drive-through washes that some gas stations feature.
What we do have is a three-bay, coin-operated self-service operation, set back from the main street in a dismal stretch of asphalt not far from the local rock quarry. It takes quarters — many, many quarters — and a fair amount of time and elbow grease to emerge with a car that is halfway clean. Also, your feet get wet and you have to bring your own towels.
Otherwise, it’s a half-hour drive to a bigger town where there are full-service car washes that will do everything for you and charge you twenty bucks while you wait.
So mostly I drive around with a dirty car and just squeegee the windshield when I fill up the tank. But today I was tired of the dust and bird poop and tree sap, and I had errands to run anyway, so I grabbed a small dish of quarters and some old towels and headed off to the coin-op. I figured it wouldn’t take long.
When I got there, one of the three wash bays was out of order. A small line of cars stood behind the other two bays, waiting their turn. I considered bailing, but I had my quarters and towels and my ratty car-washing shoes on. So I waited. And waited.
But then — aha! It turned out the coin-op had a fourth bay, one I’d failed to notice on previous visits, on the outside of the building. It had no shade and lousy drainage, but it had the shortest line, and before long I was able to pull up next to its wash rigs, with the spray wand and the automatic foaming scrub brush still dripping from the last customer.
I got out, grabbed a fistful of quarters and was sloshing through sudsy water towards the pay-and-spray thingie, when a man approached me, waving to get my attention.
“You no pay, Señora!” he said excitedly. “Free!” He gestured toward the mechanism where customers are supposed to dial up whatever they want to douse their auto with next — pre-rinse, rinse, suds, foam, spray wax — and mimed turning it.
His English was better than my Spanish, but I gave it a shot. “Gratis? Verdad?” I asked, returning his smile. “Y todo trabaja?” It all works? “Que bien! Gracias!”
He nodded, grinned, and joined his companion. “Habla español,” he reported to the other man, who nodded at me in approval.
“Un poquito,” I said. “Un poquitito.” A little bit. A little tiny bit. My benefactors smiled again and waved as they pulled away.
Sure enough, no quarters were required in the outside wash bay. I don’t know if that’s intentional or if it was another malfunction, but considering the ridiculous amount of quarters I’ve shoved into the coin-op’s maw over the years, I was delighted to get my car de-grimed and de-pooped for no more than the dollar fifty I spent to vacuum it.
When I pulled out of the bay, another guy pulled in behind me. I made sure to let him know about the magically free car wash. Once he realized I was in earnest, his face lit up.
And so I came home with a clean car, practically for free, and a warm connection with three fellow human beings previously unknown to me, two of whom speak a language I can barely converse in. And they all have clean cars too.
Kind of miraculous, don’t you think?
Hey, if you want to join me in my radical gratitude exercise, by all means, write on!