Stepping Into Gratitude
For the past month I’ve been staying on my friend’s houseboat on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. His wonderful shoebox-shaped home has more windows than walls so it’s inevitable I spend a large part of my indoor time looking outside. Right next to the houseboat there’s a pretty steep bridge with steps leading up to and down from it.
Every day since I got here, while I’m having breakfast, I see a lady who includes this bridge in her morning walk. On any given day there’s such a vast amount of people walking across that I don’t take notice of most of them. But this lady caught my attention for a special reason.
The time it takes her to cross this bridge is nearly the same amount of minutes I require to polish off my rather lavish bowl of buckwheat flakes topped with nuts and seeds of all exotic varieties.
With the crutches she uses to walk, dangling from her arms, she clings to the bridge’s railing. Every step she takes looks like to her it is a marathon.
I sometimes jokingly refer to the bridges of Amsterdam as Holland’s mountains cause their slopes are just about the only thing that prevents this country from looking like a giant iron came down from the sky and smoothed it all out.
To this brave lady I believe the overpass outside my window is in fact a mountain. When I first saw her my instinct was to run outside and lend her a hand. But straight away I realized she didn’t attempt to make any contact with the people rushing past her to solicit their assistance. Perhaps my coming to her aid would be an insult to her bravery and in fact of no help at all. That was the last thing I wanted. So I continued eating and watching her.
My keeping such a close eye on her felt in a way as though I was intruding on a very intimate moment between her and that bridge. But alas, I couldn’t help but stare. Something about it grabbed me. This frail-looking, hunched over figure exuded such strength and determination I felt my admiration grow with every inch of her progress.
From that first day on she made sure to lighten up my breakfast time every morning. On the third day of watching her I started crying. The trip didn’t appear to have become any easier for her yet there she was every single day. Of course I have no way of actually knowing why she makes that journey every time. Perhaps she has a serious doughnut addiction as the bakery is on the other side of the canal. Somehow that doesn’t seem likely. Everything about her radiates a clear decision to maintain and enjoy, perhaps even improve, the mobility she still has. This inspires me to no end to take each of my steps with more appreciation. Not just because I can run, skip or jump like a frog across that bridge if I choose to, but mainly cause it’s all so relative.
What means the world to one person is easily overlooked by another. How we spend our day and how fast or slow we do things is not of much consequence in the end. It’s our commitment to working with what life gives us that brings grace to each moment. The realization that this courageous passer-by was teaching me that lesson all over again was what brought on my tears. Quietly to myself I began thanking her, over and over, while sending her the love I could feel for her. It may have been just my imagination, or a sudden spike in her blood sugar level, but after a few minutes of waves of gratitude pouring from my consciousness in the direction of hers, she seemed to speed up.
I watched until she’d taken the last few steps of that day’s crossing and disappeared out of sight. But my thank you’s are still in full view. The simple wisdom those two words hold is astounding. And every day they will continue to teach me where this remarkable lady left off.
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