Editor's note - This column was originally published in The Times and Democrat in March 2015.
“When I watch TV, it’s just some show ... that are pretend. And when you explore, you get more imagination than you already had. And when you get more imagination, it makes you wanna go deeper in, so you can get more and see beautifuller things. Like the path, if it’s a path, it could lead you to a beach or something, and it could be beautiful.”
With those words, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl, occasionally picking at her nose with her left pinkie finger, ponders the sense of the extraordinary found in the ordinary experience of using her imagination and following the paths that may cross her way.
She introduces then a moving and compelling reminder of the gift of today, narrated by a man whose voice resonates, haltingly and haunting at times, with experience and wisdom. I imagine him to be elderly, reflecting in later years upon ways that all of us can experience life more fully and find, in the words of the little girl, things that are “beautifuller.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast takes over the narrative as images of the world’s beauty and grandeur - found in things as simple as clouds swirling in the skies to more complex images of people’s faces - appear on the screen while gently playing music moves the viewer through the swells of gratitude in his voice.
“You think today is just another day in your life. It is not just another day. It is the one day that is given to you. Today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful. The worries of the world take over our minds. Our preoccupations with wrongs done to us injure our hearts. Our obsession with things, duties and responsibilities outweighs our appreciation of both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
When I was a child, I lay in my friend’s backyard across the street for hours, watching clouds and seeing the shapes of dragons, dogs, clowns and spaceships. We raspberried with our tongues, hearing the echo on the breeze, then rolling with giggles until our stomachs ached.
How long has it been since I have been a child? Far too many years. A local businessman has a sign that reads, “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap!” Adulthood traps us in its snare and leads us to believe that life is all about things that really don’t matter — who we are, where we live, what we do, who our friends are, what clubs we belong to — things that can take our imagination hostage and rob us of the simple joys of this day.
In that manner of living, we miss out on what is truly extraordinary. We forget to explore and get more imagination than we ever had before. Instead, we live in a kind of TV-land, where everything is pretend. We pretend to be important; we pretend to be entitled; we pretend to be privileged; we pretend to be indispensable.
There are paths before me right now. I’m not sure where they will lead, but if I listen to the little girl and heed the words of Brother David, I’ll take one of those paths and see where it leads me. Who knows, it may lead to something beautiful … like a beach.
Brother David invokes a phrase that I have embraced since watching the video: “today is the first day in your life and the very last day.” If that were truly the case, how would I live this one day? Brother David answers the question.
“If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response (gratitude) to the great gift that this unique day is … if you learn to respond as if it is the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well,” he says.