It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
–Brother David Steindl-Rast
I’ve recently thought that if I ever write a book, the “Acknowledgments” section will be larger than the book itself. For real. I joke a lot, usually, but I’m completely serious.
This week was fraught with travel challenges as I attempted to make my way to Rwanda for my longest trip yet. No less than two cancelled flights, and nightmare re-bookings. My colleague and fellow board member, Christy Lamagna, and I made many friends at Newark airport, including a soldier, a waitress and airplane captain. Really, business cards were exchanged. In the end, however, the moved flights made us miss the Alumni Reunion at the Village, and I am sorely disappointed. Hopefully I will get to connect with Alumni when I finally get there. And Christy couldn’t change her schedule, so I’m solo. For the first time, I think. And on the way to the airport (for the third time this week) I thought a lot about all the help I have had to get to this moment, traveling alone 7,500 miles to a place I consider home. It’s a miracle- or maybe it’s fate, as my nephew Gus would say.
Gus became a bar mitzvah two weeks ago, and he is very wise indeed. In Jewish tradition, 13 year-old children are able to read from the Torah (the old testament bible) and do a teaching. It is considered a “coming of age” ritual. Gus’ parashah, or “reading portion”, was about fate. Gus explained that we are all on a path- but he believes our choices DO affect this path. And it is not a straight line, its more like a tree, with a trunk and many choices as branches, going every which way as choices are made, and we “grow” in the process. (And clearly I also learned Gus is very, very bright and more than ready for his bar mitzvah.)
I’ve taken his thinking a bit further. Trees don’t grow alone. They need sun, and water, and nutrients. They weather hurricanes and bask in glorious sunshine. They hopefully age gracefully. Birds and bees pollinate to help them create the next generation. They get to listen to the wind and the rain and the animals, and they create symbiotic relationships. They may or may not feel joy, but in the right conditions, with a lot of help, they truly thrive. (And in a little shout-out to the housing industry- location, location, location always helps. 😉 )
I’m not sure I was in the right place at the right time, but it is what it is. I have been thinking about choices and how I got here. What put me on this path? Did I really choose it? Who, or what, sent me in this direction? And this got me thinking about that trajectory, and the hundreds of people who have influenced me along the way, many of whom likely have no idea how much impact they have had on my life. Every single person in my life has stewarded me to this moment. And when I sit here thinking about the path, names and faces pop up over and over again. It is overwhelming, frankly. A massive acknowledgement section.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Debra Gonsher Vinik when she was doing her documentary, “Beauty in Their Dreams” and was filming in the Village. At 2pm, her phone alarm went off. She apologized and said that was the moment very day she and her husband had their Mincha Moment, or moment of gratitude. Say what? Really, she sets and alarm! Being grateful is humbling. Being grateful reminds you of joy during the hard times. Appreciating the good people in your life helps bring you energy to move forward, and reminds you when (and who) to ask for help. So your branches can grow. And there are hundreds of people like Debra in my life who have been there to help move me, and ASYV, forward. Not to mention the other aspects of my life. And I hope beyond hope I have given back to everyone who has given to me. If I haven’t yet, I will. Promise. Because I am so eternally grateful. If you have no need of me, at the very least, I will pay it forward to someone else.
The mango tree in the Village seems even more relevant to me now, representing all of our growth through the years, kids, staff, volunteers and friends alike, all feeding a mission which bares incredibly sweet fruit.
I can’t wait to sit under that tree, like all who have gone before me, and watch it grow.