Gratitude is a funny thing. Being thankful for the big things in our lives is fairly simple. While we may often take them for granted, we recognize them much faster than the little things. And in reality, the things we think of as the little things are usually the major blessings we often overlook.
It was on a recent trip to Sint Maarten with my friends from college that all of the things, big and little, came pouring over me with such fierce gratitude.
I had planned this trip as a surprise for my girlfriends from college. We've been friends for 20+ years and have been through some pretty major ups and downs together. We have experienced the pain of marriages that didn't work out. We've lost parents and in-laws. We've seen the people we love the most face illnesses, some winning and some not as fortunate. The ups have certainly been aplenty too. Between the four of us, we have fifteen children (nine human and six furry). Three of the four have found their soulmates and know what real love looks like (I'm still trying to figure that one out). We've all found careers that fulfill us in ways we never imagined.
These women mean the world to me and to be able to surprise them with a mystery destination was more fun than I can put into words. So when it came to planning the trip, every detail was important. They all knew we were going on the trip, but they didn't know where. We live in different cities across the US, so we met up in Miami. That afternoon we ventured out in South Beach and they all learned where we would be headed the next day. They had to put together a little puzzle and then complete a word game to get the name of our destination. As we sipped cocktails on Ocean Dr, watching a strange scene play out next door at the old Versace mansion, we took it all in. We toasted each other. We toasted our friend Sarah (the fifth in our "Party of Five") who wasn't able to make the trip. We looked forward to a week filled with all the things women need when they get a break from the reality of everyday life. It was pretty perfect.
The next day we were up early and headed to the tropical paradise known as Sint Maarten. The island has seen so much devastation in recent years and yet it hasn't given up. Every day it gets back up after being kicked in the teeth and says "just one more.”
I quickly fell in love with the island. It wouldn’t have been a normal morning if one of my girls didn’t walk outside to find me in a near meditative state sitting in “my” chair (I basically claimed it on day one) watching the sunrise over Dawn Beach, with actual tears of joy streaming down my face. It’s hard to explain why this trip affected me so much. Probably because those who know me well, know the ocean, the sunrise, and salty air are what I dream of year-round. If there were one person meant to live with a view of the sea, it would most definitely be me. Pair that serenity with a week spent exploring with three women who have stuck by my side since college and you have a recipe for pure perfection.
Those are the things that are beyond easy to be grateful for. If you saw this sunrise in person, got to take a tour of the house we called home for a week, or knew the women I call my “Party of Five” you would understand how there’s no way I could take any of it for granted.
But it’s those other little things that still manage to creep in when we’re in the middle of our absurd expectations. Here’s a perfect example of me, someone who does daily gratitude practices, letting one of the little things annoy me. Let me paint the picture…
The day we arrived we took the shuttle to get our rental car. I had ordered a Jeep, so we could make the most of every minute exploring both the Dutch and French sides of the island. But when we showed up the gentleman working told me the previous renter returned the Jeep full of diesel fuel and it was toast. He offered an SUV and to bring us a different Jeep the next day. No biggie. We jumped in the Honda Pilot which perfectly fit our many (many) bags and we were off to Bell’Mare (the name of our house on Dawn Beach). The next day we woke up early, toasted with mimosas, and Jules got to work on a grocery list. She and another friend, Sarah, took one for the team and adventured into the heart of the Dutch side of the island to get groceries. This was not an easy task. If I had a picture of the trunk upon their return, you’d know why. While Jules and Sarah were out getting the goods, Kelly and I had the very difficult task of making sure the pool was warm enough, the beach soft enough, and the closest beach bar, stocked enough. We managed to check off two of the three.
It was a few hours later Jules and Sarah returned. They had big smiles on their faces when they came in and I just thought it was because we were officially fully stocked and the vacay could begin. But no, they had another surprise. We ventured up the steps to start unloading and there it was, our Jeep! On top of going to get all the groceries, they drove all the way back to the airport to pick it up. But here was where my expectations killed the party. It was green. LIME GREEN. Whoa.
Most people would be jumping for joy that the groceries were shopped, delivered, and unloaded and that the Jeep had arrived (without having to lift a finger). But not me. In the moment, all I could see was how green that Jeep was. I let my expectations of something SO minute, take away the joy that should have been overflowing. Seriously, who on Earth would care if the Jeep was red, yellow, or green? It was a Jeep, on a tropical island, that wasn’t filled with diesel! I had to check myself and quickly. But every time I walked upstairs to see it, I just kept thinking, “wow, that’s green.”
The next day we loaded up in the LIME GREEN Jeep for our daily adventure. Of course, before we even put the car in drive, I had to mention just how green it was. It was then, as we drove off away from the house overlooking St Barth’s (I know, right?), headed to the marina where we were about to board our own private catamaran that I had chartered for the day, that Jules very subtly reminded me of the story I had been talking about writing the entire trip titled, G is for Gratitude.
That single moment now stuck in my mind and played on repeat. Every morning from there on out, I would wake up early so as not to miss a single sunrise over famous Dawn Beach. Those moments when the rest of the world seemed to be sleeping in, I would sit in “my” chair watching the sun slowly peek out from behind the clouds that formed on the horizon. Those mornings spent alone in my head provided so much clarity on things I had been struggling with for a while. I contemplated relationships (past, present, and potentially future). I thought long and hard about Giraffe and the direction and focus the company needed. I planned and plotted story ideas for a non-profit I'd soon be writing for. I used that time to bask in the view of the day just beginning, the scent of the sea, the feel of that ocean breeze on my freckled face, and contemplated exactly how I could find a way to make that feeling permanent.
I was a puddle of happy when we walked into that house, opened the sliders, and saw the view. But it was truly the lime green Jeep that reminded me of the consequences of unnecessary expectations. When I let myself envision how it's "supposed" to be, I'm giving myself permission to not enjoy every single second of how it actually is. And that's such dangerous territory. Because I do truly believe that in this (and every) moment, I am exactly where I'm really "supposed" to be. And so I've just decided to be grateful for the tough moments when life gets messy, the ridiculous moments when a lime green Jeep makes me sassy, and the beautiful moments when I'm enjoying a cup of coffee overlooking the ocean with the friends I honestly don't deserve.
I hope each of you reading my story have your own "green Jeep moment" that reminds you of all you've overcome and lets you love the exact moment you're in, so you too can interrupt the expectations and get on with loving every single second.
Just. So. Grateful.