ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
During these Days of Awe, I have been inspired to write a little off-topic. I hope that does not offend too many of you (and if it does, I will atone), but I felt compelled to delve into the personal, even if just for a few hundred/thousand words.
As I have mentioned here before, I am a runner. I’m no marathoner (although that is on the bucket list), and no one would confuse me with Edwin Moses or Dean Karnazes (kudos to you if you get that reference), but I enjoy a leisurely run a few days a week. And because I run, I often find myself awake early on a Saturday or Sunday morning with hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded people racing for a cause. Whether it is ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis or for better teen driving habits (strange, but true) or pediatric medical care, I find myself standing in the sun with a bib, a timing chip, and a distance to go.
These races have become so ubiquitous over the past few years that we have begun to see some blow-back. “Why do I need to scratch a check every time you want an excuse to run 6.2 miles?”, some people ask. “Why should the traffic patterns in pick your city be totally screwed up because hundreds of people decided to make themselves feel better about being misanthropes the other 51 Saturdays of the year?”, some people complain. “Just ask me for a donation and save yourself the effort”, I have been told time and again. And, truth be told, I get it. But I think that misses the bigger picture.
This past weekend I participated in my favorite charity event of the year: the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. There are many reasons why I love this race, including:
- Over 5,000 people wake up well before dawn and trudge to the beach for the honor of jumping into the ocean just as the sun breaks. If you are lucky – like we were this year – the water is warm and the waves are small. You don’t always get so lucky.
- In order to survive this event, you must get in some sort of shape. So, thousands of people find themselves training for weeks and months to better themselves, and do so for a cause.
- Each of the past few years, this event has raised over $1,000,000 for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. This year, we collectively raised over $1.3M. We literally do it for the kids.
In year’s past, I have been blown away by the efforts of all of the competitors in the Nautica. But this year I saw – and really focused on – something amazing. As I was slogging up and down the hills of Pacific Coast Highway on my road bike, I came across two paraplegics who were propelling themselves along this 18-mile course using nothing but their upper-body strength on their recumbent bikes. Outfitted with super-human physical strength, super-human mental strength, and intestinal fortitude for days, these racers pushed themselves to the end.
How can any us complain about a cramp in our calf or a stitch in our side, when these people are willing to push so hard and give so much, just to help others? This is a double mitzvah: people who have less physically, giving all that they do have, to help others. Viewed through that prism, my completion of the road race was the equivalent of a walk in the park.
As a society, we have become jaundiced to the pink bats we see every Mother’s Day, and the blue ribbons we see every Father’s Day, throughout Major League baseball parks. At this point we find it cute and trite. However, before we tsk tsk this too much, would it shock you to know that MLB has raised and donated over $40,000,000 from those initiatives? Small gestures with huge consequences.
About 10 days ago my kids and I ran in the Second Annual (can you call it an “Annual” after only two years? A bit ambitious at this point, don’t you think?) Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation 5K. This event raised money for the LADF, which works with middle school students in STEM education, promotes sports activities to create leadership opportunities and character development, and addresses health challenges that prevent children from engaging in school or recreational activities. They aren’t curing polio, but they are making an impact on the community. I think that is worthy.
But, more than that, for my $250 donation, I got the joy of seeing my kids (ages 12, 9, 6) run our first family 5K. I saw the twinkle in their eyes when they put on their bibs, and the nervousness in their knees as we lined up in the shoot, and the pride in their smiles when they crossed the finish line. And we raised money for a good cause to boot.
So it was that in back-to-back weekends we got to feel good by doing good. We saw people of all sizes and shapes, all ages and abilities, and they were out there, pushing themselves.
And then Monday morning I show up to the office, a little spring in my step (save for the shin splints), and there was pride in my bearing and a smile on my face (that stanza was cribbed from what? Answer below). Shortly after I arrive, we learn that one of our colleagues, a very bright, quick-witted, hard-working young man, passed away – he was just 27 years old. WTF!! The cause of death is unknown, but it appears to be natural. No matter; it is a tragedy that cannot be put into words.
Which brings me to my Attitude of Gratitude. Open the Metro Section of your local newspaper (or click on the link) and you will be bombarded with daily tragedies in your community. Watch the evening news and you will be hit with mass shootings and massive chaos the world over. And yet, here we sit, in our comfortable homes, cars, and offices, as all of this unfolds around us. Not to get too rabbinic, but how often do we take a moment to consider how lucky we are? How often in our Waze has us getting there when? Your homework isn’t done why? We are having dinner with whom? What do I have to do to get this damn thing to work? lives do we take 5 minutes – heck, 5 seconds – to just breathe in and acknowledge how great we have it. Do we ever affirmatively have an Attitude of Gratitude?!?
This has become a mantra in our home, as we struggle to raise children who are appreciative of the blessed lives they live (at times it seems that they don’t have a clue). We repeat this time and again so we don’t raise spoiled brats who have no concept of what something costs, or how other people feel. Our goal is more than a pedestrian “thank you”; we want this concept to be instilled in our children, and we will beat it into them if we must.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can do more to lead by example.
Unfortunately, I have faced many tragedies in my life. And yet I try – all too often unsuccessfully – to have an Attitude of Gratitude. Maybe that’s what drives me to sign up for races – even when no friends or family are around. Maybe it’s my guilty conscience forcing me to push myself to show – even if I don’t verbally articulate – how grateful I am to be alive. Maybe this is what it takes for me to display my gratitude for having two legs that work and can run 30,000 feet without stopping. Maybe I am avenging my miserly grandmother when I write a check to a charity that I have never heard of just to get a crappy t-shirt, a flimsy piece of paper and four safety pins, and the chance to join a small community of strangers for less than an hour. But, by doing so, I am showing my kids – by deed – that I am grateful. Mother Teresa I am not, but it is something that I can do to express by Attitude of Gratitude.
Please don’t misread this – I take a great deal of pride in my accomplishments. I believe it was Paul Newman who once asked: “If everybody tells you that you are accomplished but you don’t feel accomplished, then what the fuck good is that?” I felt pretty damn good when I crossed that finish line Sunday morning; and I will feel great when I finish my next race(s).
But what made me even happier was seeing my kids’ smiling faces. I have explained to them why I push myself to complete these races, and why players are using pink bats, and wearing blue ribbons. They are starting to understand that they have it a lot better than most. They are slowly beginning to display an Attitude of Gratitude for what they have. The road is long, and the message doesn’t always stick, but like I did in the ocean this past weekend, you keep paddling because the payoff is worth the struggle.
So the next time you honk your horn at an intersection you didn’t expect to be closed at 7am on a Sunday morning; the next time you bemoan a mass email asking that you sponsor or support someone in this or that event; the next time you receive an invitation to participate in a walk for a cause, try to have an Attitude of Gratitude. It just may change how you react, what you do, what you say, and, most importantly, what you teach!
We have less than two weeks left in the MLB season, and then October Baseball begins. From what I read, the first few games of the World Series will again be played in support Stand Up to Cancer. Small deeds, huge outcomes, great Attitude!
Answer: Casey at the Bat (but you already knew that!)