Taylor: Something you can’t give back

A lovely morning isn’t expecting a thank you card.

It rained all day that Sunday. The rain came down in sheets. The wind drove it against our windows.

Not that I’m complaining—we needed the rain. The woods were tinder-dry. Burning was banned. The seedlings in my garden gasped for water.

Then Monday morning dawned with a sky like fine porcelain. Flowering trees glowed. Rejuvenated grasses waved enthusiastically at the sun.

I took the dog for a walk. “Lovely morning,” I called out to a man trimming the edges of his lawn.

“Every morning is a lovely morning!” he called back.

His response set me back for a second or two. Because I tend to take mornings for granted. Mornings are, after all, quite predictable. Day follows night. Sunrise follows sunset. I can be just as sure that morning will come as that gravity will not go on strike overnight, or that water will not freeze when heated.

So I expect to wake up. I expect to groan as I coax my hips into standing. I expect to grunt as I bend my back far enough for me to pull my socks on over my toes.

Some things settle so deeply into routine that I forget to notice the loveliness that surrounds me. The sheer joy of hot water running over my body when I have a shower. The crisp crunch of breakfast cereal. The sound of a song sparrow up the hill, trilling his descending minor thirds. The dog who gazes at me as if I can do no wrong.

There was loveliness even on the rainy Sunday before that perfect Monday morning, if I had looked for it. I could have listened to raindrops slapping the leaves of the trees. I could have lit a fire in the fireplace, and watched flames dancing to a tango only they can hear. I could have let the bass rumble of distant thunder massage my shoulders. I could have inhaled the rich scent of wet earth….

But I didn’t.

The loveliness is always there. Even if I don’t bother noticing it.

And I wonder, sometimes, if paying attention, if making a deliberate decision to appreciate the beauty and loveliness that surrounds us, is a form of gratitude.

So often, we treat gratitude as an obligation to give back. Because we have received, we should repay it, by doing a good deed in return. Or we should pass our benefit along, so that others may in turn be grateful for our generosity.

But that’s a narrow and materialistic view. It deals with tithes and percentages. With cash in the collection plate and cheques for worthwhile charities. It assumes that money and things are all we should be grateful for.

But I can’t give back loveliness. I can only appreciate it. Revel in it, perhaps. Absorb it. Let it infiltrate me, fill me, warm me…

It’s hard for me to break the habit of thinking that I need to pay back someone’s kindness. I was brought up with the maxim, “It’s better to give than to receive.”

But I can’t give loveliness. I can only receive it.

Perhaps a lovely morning is trying to teach me that it’s OK just to receive, gratefully.