Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for moments

We Americans set great store by happiness. Its pursuit is enshrined in our founding manifesto as an inalienable right.

Those who are not by nature and temperament "upbeat and positive" are often looked upon with some suspicion, as though their "negative attitude" might be a contagious disease that will spoil the party.

And yet life really isn't on the side of the upbeat and positive folks. Through the centuries the wise have counseled against clinging to the ephemeral. Triumph is fleeting. In the words of the poet, "...every tower ever built tumbles/No matter how strong, no matter how tall...someday even man's best laid plans/Will lie twisted and covered in rust/When we've done all that we can but it slipped through our hands/And it's ashes to ashes and dust to dust..."

Lately we've had hard times in the land of the free. Living in the richest society in human history hasn't made us especially happy, and many are learning that the riches of our promised land have indeed slipped through our hands.

The hard truth is that we lose what we love. Yet that loss is a profound teacher.

Last week, my wife Marilyn had to put her beloved horse Hotshot down. He was an older horse with a chronic metabolic condition that eventually ruined his feet and once a horse's feet are shot, he's done for. It was clear that he couldn't go on and the decision was not a hard one in the end.

But it was painful.

Hotshot was a horse with an outsized personality. Everybody who knew him, including our non-horsey neighbors, fell in love with him.

Our family treasured our hours in the woods with him and we miss seeing him hang his head over the gate to greet us when we come home - and to remind us that it's 15 minutes past dinner time.

Those moments and the memory of those moments validate all the hard work and expense that go into keeping a horse, all the strain and worry that accompanied his decline.

We are thankful for moments.

Thankful for the glint of the rising sun on a chestnut coat, the steam of a horse's breath on the chilly fall air. Thankful for the lessons in responsibility caring for a horse brings to a young girl. Thankful for the sense of connection you feel when you're out on the trail in the Sisters Country, everyone and everything working in unison.

Those moments are fleeting indeed, and all the more powerful for their poignancy.

Jefferson was right to exalt the pursuit of happiness, for it is in the pursuit that the cherished moments come. Kipling wrote of the need "to fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds of distance run." It is the race itself that matters, not whatever prize you might think is waiting at the end.

The exultation of standing on a peak comes not from the view from the top, spectacular though it may be, but from having earned it by the long slog to get there. After all, the brief time at the top must end; you must climb down.

The moments and the memories always seem to come from the long trail, from the struggle, not from the attainment of the goal.

There is a solace and a grace to be found here that cannot be found in trite platitudes about "keeping a positive attitude."

Success and failure are redefined when our eye is turned to our moments. Success lies in the courage to embrace the struggle, the fortitude to accept the inevitable losses. Failure is only possible in turning away from the fear and the pain, failing to engage.

It is good that we set aside a day to give thanks for the good things in our lives. No matter how hard times may be, we all have moments of beauty, moments of grace to mark. We remember them, celebrate them, stoke them like a warming fire.

We must. In the end, they are what we can keep.

Quotes from "Ashes to Ashes" by Steve Earle.


  1. One of the best things i think you've ever written, Jim. Nicely spoken, right on the money, and thanx.

    Rod Bonacker

  2. Jim - a beautiful and timely reminder - thank you for sharing such tempered wisdom - it made my day better -