Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Ambush Of Gratitude

There have been several instances lately where I have become almost overwhelmed with gratefulness, joy and momentary elation. They seem to be happening more as I get older and I'm not quite sure what that means. Is it a natural middle age thing? Am I getting too introspective lately? Am I choosing to stick my head in the sand with regards to all the world problems?

Most often the moments come upon me while I'm walking and listening to my iPod. If you know me, I do a crap ton of walking. I walk to work every day in winter, I walk the dog every night - twice a day on weekends, and I walk to class and the library to do my writing. When I walk, I almost always have my headphones in.

What I've found is that the songs trigger memories of specific times of my life. In many instances they are times of my life I don't think much about during the rest of the day. Music has a way of triggering a part of your brain that way.

I remember one summer my wife and I were painting our bedroom and we had the classic radio station on. I said that we should tell each other the first memory that comes in our head about each song we heard. It could be an event, a person or a date. It was striking how we were able to do it for EVERY song. And the incredible variety of things that were dredged up was remarkable.

Anyhow, I was saying how the iPod songs brought back memories that almost always brought feelings of nostalgic joy. Times like:


  1. My years working for Montgomery Ward. I was a college student, working part time, making decent money. I'm sure I had stresses back then, but I always look at these days as carefree and fun. Living at home (thus the carefree part), riding a motorcycle, hanging with friends, dating.
  2. My childhood years. While we had some hard times as a big family with 7 kids and a working mother, the majority of my memories are good. Writing my memoir about those days is bringing back to mind so much of the good we had as a family. Lots of love and laughs. I wouldn't trade any of my experience.
  3. My first apartment in Crystal, Minnesota. Everyone remembers their first dumpy apartment, don't they? In our first place, my roommate and I had the "handyman" come in one day and bust a hole in our wall where the water pipe was. Then he took a blowtorch and used it to thaw the pipes. (This was Minnesota, after all). Well, he never came back and fixed the hole, so our answer to that was to string Christmas lights in it. Lemons make lemonade. And I remember the scrawny pipe cleaner looking Christmas tree with lights on it. It was nothing to look at, but it was OURS. It was a great feeling being out on your own for that first time. An Adult-Try Hard. 
  4. The years immediately following my move to Waukesha from Minnesota. This included establishing myself in a faraway place with no support net except a couple of roommates and friends from work. It was a time when my letters to and from my "pen pal" Donna kept me sane. 
  5. Our times with our kids when they were little. I almost get wispy every time I think about them as small kids. They grow up so fast, but I can't imagine life without them.
Of course there are many, many other great memories, all triggered by the music. The thing is, when I think of one, it sometimes makes me think of another and cumulatively, these things add up to what can only be described as a blessed, beautiful life that all I can do is thank God in heaven for. 

This is not to say that sometimes the songs trigger bad or sad memories, but as I said, by far the memories are positive and joy inducing. I also think that when I turn nostalgic, I tend to gloss over the bad in favor of the good. I've said it before too, but having my brother die a few years back, for all the grief and sadness that it brought to me, it has also allowed me to appreciate how much love and goodness and happiness I've experienced in life. And frankly, it's a hell of a way to trigger an appreciation reflex.

And so, especially in this holiday season, I encourage you to listen to some music, or mediate or just be quiet and take stock of the good that has happened in your life. When I personally look at all the cumulative good, it is positively humbling. And I'm going to run with that for as long as I can.

Blogging off...

1 comment:

Carrie A Ryman said...

Jim, I think those moments of elation and gratitude are not so much a side effect of middle-age but of enlightenment. I think when we become aware, through wisdom and compassionate living, that we are intimately connected to the universe, we feel it singing through us. And music is one of the most amazing vehicles for that. I love all the memories it triggers for you. That's wonderful that you can share them with your wife like that, too. I think I will try listening to music and talking about what memories arise with my husband soon. What a fun and illuminating activity! I love it.

Gratitude and joy flows over me quite often too, but for me, nature is also a catalyst. I can be walking or standing or sitting in nature or listening to music almost anywhere and this epiphany washes over me like a warm summer rain. It is LOVE!!!

Great entry. Thanks for sharing.