Monday, May 28, 2012

Memories and Gratitude

“Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”
― Paul Bowles

      Memorial Day weekend has always been a favorite of mine. Having slugged though another long Chicago winter, it marks the beginning of summer and all of the good times that come along with that. After 3 days of basking in this summer fun, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the holiday has a more serious purpose and more important meaning.

     For many, the day is a reminder to step back and acknowledge all of the service people who gave their lives fighting for their country. It reminds us that a price was paid for us to live the way we do, and that this price involved a lot of other people actually losing their lives in pursuit of this freedom. Courageous people paved the way for us, and the lives of convenience we enjoy today involved a lot of sacrifice. It’s an important idea to remember, and perhaps this idea can also serve to rekindle our sense of gratitude in an age where many of us have grown a tad entitled to the lives we live today.

     Beyond the military aspect of the holiday, I think this day also offers a wonderful chance to think about where we came from. Although they may not have been the kinds of choices that cost them their lives, our own mothers and fathers made tremendous sacrifices to give us a better life, and as children we rarely stop to acknowledge this. As the quote above attests to, it is only later in life, “when the skin sags and the heart weakens” that we begin to fully realize how our own lives are also part of a much larger story. Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country from somewhere else, and faced down tremendous fears to start a new legacy for their families, and we are the ones currently reaping the benefits of their acts of courage so many years ago. To me it’s a powerful thought, and one that makes me a lot less inclined to complain about the wide array of “first world problems” that seem to seep into my life on a daily basis. My biggest problem is losing my remote control, but somewhere in history it was a matter of literally finding food, clothing, and shelter. Kind of puts things in perspective.

     In my own life I think about my own mother working multiple jobs so her kids could one day have a life better than her own, and I am grateful. I didn’t say it a single time growing up, but now, as a doctor who has all kinds of options in my life, I realize someone else paid a price for me. It’s humbling and I am grateful. I suspect we can all think about a similar choice our parents made at one point, and I hope in these moments we can continue to choose gratitude. Parenting is like being a participant in a relay race, where you take the baton as far as you can go, based on the best information you have at the time. You hope your kids will run faster and run further, and one day their kids will run even further than that. Like I say, we’re part of a larger story.

     All of these thoughts come to mind today, because I do believe we have entered an age of entitlement, and sometimes it makes me a little sad. I know I am personally almost constantly taking things for granted, and in these moments, I try and think about where I came from and where I’m going, and what the original authors of my story would think about my whining and complaining. In these moments I often end up laughing at my own sense of self-importance, and remind myself to keep on moving the baton. Remember the sacrifices and be grateful. A simple mantra, but one I think we all could stand to repeat once in a while.