Last night, walking down the hall of the apartment complex where I am temporarily living, I passed a blue balloon. It was dancing down the hall without a string or any obvious owner. My first response was to think how excited my kids would be to find such a treasure…as excited as I would be to find inner peace, probably. Then I thought about being a good citizen and throwing it away. Then I thought about stomping on it to pop it just to blow off some steam. Instead, I just walked past, pulling out my keys.
But then I remembered something I read recently by my recent authorial obsession, Cheryl Strayed. In her advice column, she wrote a letter to her younger self, advising her from the vantage point of twenty years of maturity and growth. One of the bits of advice she gave her self was to accept “tiny, beautiful things” when they are offered to you. Oddly, in her case, she was also referring to a balloon – one offered to her on a city bus by a young girl. Strayed refused, believing that her recent heroin use and sexual promiscuity denied her the right to this small token of human kindness. The older Cheryl Strayed tells the younger one to take the balloon from the girl because even a drug-using, promiscuous person deserves “tiny, beautiful things.”
So I turned around and picked up my own tiny, beautiful gift from the cosmos and brought it into my apartment.
This morning I had coffee with a close friend who, like me, battles sometimes-crippling depression. He’s wading into a new romantic relationship after a decade out of “the game.” This morning, two Xanax hadn’t taken the edge off of his panic about this new relationship. He was tempted to scrap the few months of positive experiences because it would just be easier than forging ahead with all the potential pitfalls (of the heart and the head) of trusting someone new. But again, I thought of my balloon and reminded my friend that he has made some tiny, beautiful strides: Just allowing himself to date someone at all has been a big step, not to mention the three or four inevitable should-I-keep-trusting-this-person steps that come in the early stages of any romance. Each time, my friend has wanted to run away, but he hasn’t. Despite his fear…panic, really…he has trudged onward, insisting on personal growth even despite the discomfort involved. As I recounted all of this to him, he smiled bigger and bigger and said, “You’re right; thank you!” We had a moment of mutual awareness that some tiny, beautiful progress had been made, and was still being made.
Then I thought of my other friend, with whom I’ve recently reconnected. When we met, nearly a decade ago, he was in the throes of alcoholism, a heavy smoker, and in the midst of an ugly divorce. Since then, his grown son has died of a drug overdose. But guess what? My friend hasn’t had a drink in years; he no longer smokes; and he’s engaged to a woman who supports him and loves him. As the second anniversary of his son’s death approaches, my friend is holding strong, learning, growing, celebrating the tiny, beautiful things that still exist in his life.
And today I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the tiny, beautiful things in my own life: the friends who have supported me, the pleasure I get from hearing that my writing has helped someone, an evening cigar, the raunchy TV show Inside Amy Schumer, the weight I’ve lost as I try to make some healthy changes in life, my new job, a great book to read, the fact that my kids don’t need their asses wiped very often anymore, etc.
The past year of my existence has been a fruit basket turnover of mayhem, internally and externally. But I still get to smile and laugh and learn and love and eat and sleep and swim (preferably naked). Life is filled with tiny, beautiful things, even for me – someone who is decidedly convinced that the glass is more than half empty. I’m not…I’ll never be…a “just focus on the positive” sort of person. The negative is there whether I like it or not. But if I can just tweak my perspective enough to see that the balloon in my path isn’t another nuisance to be stepped over, but rather a tiny, beautiful gift, I can loosen up a bit, smile in thanks toward the uncertain giver of such a gift, and celebrate the tiny, beautiful things in my life.
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