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Appreciation, or Taking Things for Granted

How often do you appreciate your body, and everything it’s capable of? How often do you notice all the things you don’t like about it? Is the second approach one you take more frequently than the first?

If you’re like me, then yes, you might tend to focus more often on the things that aren’t good. It’s so easy to take all the things that work for granted, because, well, they’re the way I want, and I don’t have to think about them. Whereas all the negative things are constantly drawing attention themselves, creating little niggling distractions, self-doubt, and disappointment. This was especially true when I was heavier, but even now, it’s something I struggle with.

The problem is that we can never take anything for granted, good or bad.

I recently read the book The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Maine author Elizabeth Bailey. It’s a memoir, written after the author had contracted an undiagnosed illness (possibly tick-borne encephalitis) that prevented her from doing almost anything. She was bedridden for a year, with periods of slow recovery and relapse. She doesn’t even know how she contracted it, and it certainly wasn’t because of anything she did, which makes it terribly unfair. (But then, to quote The Princess Bride, “Who said life is fair? Where is that written?”)

When she spent her year in bed, a time when even rolling over was an enormous effort, she occupied herself largely by studying a snail. But friends also visited, and she ruminated on their time with her. “I found myself preoccupied with the energy level of my visitors, and I started to observe them in the same detail with which I observed the snail. The random way my friends moved around the room astonished me; it was as if they didn’t know what to do with their energy. They were so careless with it. There were spontaneous gestures of their arms, the toss of a head, a sudden bend in a full body stretch as if it were nothing at all; or they might comb their fingers unnecessarily through their hair.” (p. 39)

This motion, the ability to walk to the kitchen for a drink, to spend energy in ways that we don’t even notice, is something that almost all of us share, regardless of size or weight. But we so rarely appreciate it. We just expect our bodies to do these things, like we expect to breathe, and have our hearts pump blood through our veins.

Those who are more able-bodied often take more extreme things for granted, such as climbing stairs without getting winded, or lifting something heavy, or walking for miles just for fun. We all get accustomed to our current levels and think that’s the way things will always be, rarely pausing to consider that it could be different.

But there’s the flip side, too. When you’re in that place of inability, you can get equally trapped into thinking that life will always be that way. That you’ll never be able to do the things you want. That’s what makes it so hard to appreciate what you currently have, when you constantly think about what you can’t do.

And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can appreciate where you’re at, recognize the good in it, and know that you want to strive for a little more. More importantly, you can believe that in most cases it is, in fact, possible to achieve what you want, or at least make progress towards it.

When I was heavier, I used to tell myself that I’d like to climb mountains again, but I didn’t really believe that I could. Getting my unwieldy self up something so high was inconceivable. Which is why I so enjoyed recently hiking Pleasant Mountain, going up the Ledges Trail for an elevation gain of 1,600 feet. Not huge, but not inconsiderable.

6-11-11 Summit view1.jpg

Those are the things I don’t take for granted, and it makes me enjoy them all the more. I wish that I had thought to appreciate my body’s capabilities when I was heavier – even then, I could do so much that I didn’t acknowledge. Since I can’t go back in time, I will instead carry this forward to fully enjoy everything I do now, from hiking mountains to playing with my cats to being able to greet friends, not from a couch, but with a smile and a hug.

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