Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 7/4/2003 3:20 AM
Random Thought: Our Natalie And The Good Stuff

After four miles on the flat, sweaty south Georgia streets I almost long for the cool, Himalayan streets of San Mateo. Actually, I long for my fifteen month old Natalie.

Susan and I have been in the deep throes of "Natalie withdrawal." It hasn't even been two weeks since we held our grandbaby in our arms or fed her a sinful muffin or watched her dip her hands into a bowl of some Cheerios and milk to feed herself or heard her say "yesh" or changed her diaper or dressed her or put her to bed or held her hands as she struggled to take a few steps. It seems like months. She has Susan and me wrapped around her stubby little finger.

You know they say that grandchildren are God's gift for not having strangled the kids. It's true! We spent two weeks in the San Francisco area doing what grandparents are supposed to do. As we were spoiling Natalie rotten, I noticed something. Whatever our precious and most beautiful Natalie did, we thought it was cute. When she had a "blow out" diaper, we kidded around though we tightly wrinkled our noses; when she was tired and cranky, we compassionately cuddled her; when she "spit up" and splattered me, I just non-chalantly shrugged my shoulders and changed my shirt without a gag; when she dove into a icing-ladened cupcake, we laughed at the mess--and took pictures; when she opened her mouth to receive each morsel of a sinful blueberry muffin in the coffee shop, we smiled deliciously; when she hit a button on the TV remote that she was "eating" and turned off the show we were intently watching, we chuckled.

As we flew back on the red-eye, experiencing those first twinges of "Natalie withdrawal," I thought about those messy diapers, cleaning the mess around Natalie's high chair, running after this crawling dervish, the tired crankiness, and the spitting up. You know, if I had seen those things as inconveniences, irritants or annoyances, I would have made sure they would have inconvenienced, irritated, or annoyed me. And, I would have turned aside and have missed an awful lot. If I had seen them as blessings, I would have made sure they would have delighted me. It was my choice. It's always my choice how I choose to look at things and people.

I remembered a story I had read of a Zen master. He had his first enlightened glimpse while walking through a marketplace. He overheard a customer tell the butcher, "Cut me only the good stuff"; the butcher replied, "Hey, take a look; it's nothing but good stuff!" This was just the catalyst the master needed. He took a look at the ground, the sky, the people in their bustle of buying and selling, and from that moment on everywhere he saw nothing in them but the good stuff. It is just as I look at Natalie: nothing but the good stuff.

Maybe Natalie is now my special booster shot to continue to be acutely conscious of "the good stuff." So, I wonder. What if we practiced our various teaching and advising and administrative and staff roles with the same attitude as both that Zen master and me when I played with, cared for, pampered, cleaned up after, spoiled, and loved Natalie? What if everything, conscious or otherwise, was, for each of us, a blessing of "the good stuff?" What if we each were enveloped only by a desiring and commited spirit of "wanting to" and never felt a compliant pressure of "had to?" What if we each I felt and expressed a constant appreciative "thank you" and never a mournful and beseeching "pleeeeease?" What if we each could not and did not say each day--as I say to my Natalie--anything other than "I love you today."

The more I think about it, the more it hits me. I understand more something I read in one of my Michael's books. It was an African shaman saying: "Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot." It means I wouldn't be changing a diaper or my soiled shirt if Natalie wasn't there to be changed. It means be attentive and don't treat anything as if it was made of transparent cellophane. It means see the importance of and experience a sense of abundance in each supposedly innocuous event and supposedly ordinary person. It means see the proverbial glass as half filled and not as half empty. It means the more I consider anything or anyone to be a reason for joy, the more joyful I will be and the more joyfully I will want to be with. It means the less I wallow in the difficulties, the shallower will any potential rut, and the easier and quicker it will be to get out of it. It means appreciation and gratitude is an attitude we can freely choose in order to create a better experience for ourselves and for others.

When we enter a class each day, when we walk down the hall each day, when we step on campus each day, do we, like the Zen master, work hard to see nothing but "the good stuff?" Do we say grace, offer a thank you, say "I love you" for the offering of challenge, opportunity, possibility of growing, changing, touching someone, and changing the world? Do we make an grateful heart a regular, natural, and buoyant part of our day?

If you do, I guarantee it will boost your spirits. It will be as with my Natalie. You will look forward to each moment; you won't be able to wait for each moment; you will wonder in each moment; you will be awed at each moment; you will find your sense sharpened each moment; you will find yourself seeing and listening to so much more each moment; you will be delighted each moment; you will appreciate each moment; you will know each moment is a gift; you will feel each moment; you will find much to celebrate and be thankful for; you will hear the music each moment; you will dance each moment; you will refresh and be refreshed each moment.

If I have one updraft that keeps my spirit soaring about my Natalie, each of my two sons, my Susan, each student, my garden, teaching, and life in general, it is this: be a living text of thankfulness for "the good stuff." I tell myself each day to take things and people with gratitude and not take them for granted; I tell myself that I must be grateful to them and be grateful for them. And each time I can successfully find and ride those rising currents, be it changing Natalie's messy diaper, cleaning her messy hands and face, working on my own messes, helping each student help him/herself, or connecting with a colleague or friend, I find a calm contentment and a quiet joy in my belief that what I am doing is unsurpassable.

Have a safe and happy July 4th (and a belated happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends). Susan and I are off to the Atlantic coast in a few hours to pop a few firecrackers and down a few hamburgers with old friends of ours.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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