A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. For me, this one picture (inset) enkindled but a single word: Perspective.
My wife took this candid picture on Friday, while I was deep in thought working on a different version of this week’s blog post. She took this picture and texted it to me.
This picture evoked a sense of comfort. I understood immediately how lucky I am; and how close I am to achieving certain goals I have set for myself. It suggested to me that I have attained much of the condition I have been working to realize.
So what is it about this picture that struck me? An acute awareness of my good fortune and a renewed need to keep things in perspective.
Looking at this picture elicited serenity. I can assure you though, that I was working without joy or pleasure at this moment. When I saw this picture I realized I didn’t have a good appreciation for the contentment I had achieved – I had lost perspective. I consider perspective one of my core values, and this evocation of good fortune seems a very good time to assert another core value: Gratitude.
During my second tour in Afghanistan I kept a journal for the first time. Returning home, and after reviewing my journal, the notion of perspective became central to everything I contemplated. This perspective was stimulated by an event during this tour, but more realistically was derived from the experiences of my life to that point. I have been able to isolate two clear watershed events that elicit this notion: my time in India, and an incident from this tour in Afghanistan.
I realized that moving forward, this concept of perspective would be an important value in guiding my life thereafter. In writing this post on perspective and gratitude I would like to share some of what I am grateful for, which this picture stimulated:
- I was born in Canada, and to a family that remains connected, involved and loving.
- I have a strong sense of security and access to health care, clean water, food and freedom of movement.
- My wife is supportive and loving, great with the kids and still my best friend.
- I benefit from a strong and respectful relationship with my in-laws.
- My kids are healthy, and engaged in life. Their efforts in school are admirable. They show respect to their friends and to their elders, but also to strangers and their enemies, to animals and to their belongings.
- I have my health. Friends stay in touch. I have access to education and the ability to exercise freewill.
- My dog; well, just look at the photo.
My two watershed moments then. Back in the early 90’s I traveled India. India is a country of extremes. Where abject poverty intersects with appreciable wealth; and so many people. What most struck me though, was seeing even the most piteous soul, and there were many, still smiling, and finding joy, purpose and meaning in life. In The Little Book of Lykke, by Meik Wiking, you can acquaint yourself with the Ancient Greek word eudaimonia; in English happiness. It suggests a concept based on Aristotle’s perception of happiness, which asserts that ‘the good life was a meaningful and purposeful life.’ This is an interesting concept because it is subjective and can mean different things to different people and is indifferent to wealth and status.
In India, my most memorable moments and interactions were with people that had, ostensibly, nothing. What they did have, always, was a respect for life and an understanding of the preciousness and worth of living. I read in India, among a great many books, City of Joy, by Dominique Lapierre. A worthy read to relate this notion of life and perspective.
The second perspective-inspiring moment occurred while deployed to Afghanistan on my second tour. During this tour I ended up in the hospital. Now I can’t offer any heroic, or even interesting tale to put me there, but there I was nonetheless.
I ended up in the Role 3 facilities at Kandahar Airfield (Role 3 refers to a fully functional medical facility.) I was in need of persistent monitoring for a short period and was placed in an area of the hospital that had the ability to provide this continuous monitoring. In this instance, I was surrounded by wounded Afghan soldiers and civilians that were there receiving care. Some of these individuals were in rough shape; with arms held on by pins and such, with eyes missing, and numerous burns. There were children with telling scars, and staples holding their heads together. For me, this was a lens into the cost of war to the civilian and indigenous population.
I saw figures from the local populace filling crucial surrogate roles of support and comfort. Of course, the nurses and medical staff were amazing, but I expected this. I did not expect, or appreciate before, the broader impacts of war. These realities were known, but I had my job as a soldier, and my lens was likely narrow to that role. It was illuminating and helped me to make better considered decisions thereafter.
This reaffirmed notion of perspective was well cemented as I returned home; I am appreciative that it stimulate this declaration of gratitude.
Phew … I drew a lot out of this one picture, eh? Very likely not my wife’s intent in sharing it. The only thing that could make this picture any better though, would be the inclusion of friends or family. Is there anything better than a cup of coffee, a dog tucked in under stretched out legs on a comfortable couch? Here I have access to fast Internet, warmth on a very cold November day, and where my eyeglasses were paid for by my benefits.
I suppose this articulation of gratitude is apropos though, as it converges with the US Thanksgiving. Not planned, but fitting the same.
… it looks like, in the end, this picture was worth a thousand words (exactly).