On a cold January morning, a man at a metro station in Washington, D.C., started to play the violin. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. Since it was rush hour, thousands of people passed through the station. A few slowed briefly to listen, and after several minutes the violinist received his first tip: a woman threw a dollar in his till as she dashed past. The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy.
Only six people stopped and listened for a while, and the violinist collected $32. When he finished playing, no one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. That day he played one of the most intricate pieces ever written for the violin on a Stradivarius worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell had sold out at a theater in Boston where the average seat cost $100. He was playing incognito in the metro station as part of a social experiment about perception. Because people didn’t have a way to judge the value of what they were hearing, most of them failed to appreciate it.
This is how many of us move through our lives. We are surrounded by beauty and love, but because it is human nature to focus on lack, we fail to truly see. Most people consider themselves grateful for the good things in their lives. However, when we lose appreciation for those things, we no longer see their value.
When my first child, David, was born, I remember being so moved by the miracle and wonder of it all that my appreciation for his mere existence was overwhelming. The touch of his mouth on my neck, the smell of his skin, the feeling of his head in my hand. Any sound he uttered was heavenly. Now that he’s older, that appreciation is different even though my love hasn’t changed one bit.
For example, when he was 14-years-old, he dashed toward me enthusiastically, announcing, “Aba (Dad) is coming to my baseball game tomorrow, and he’s going to record it for you to watch!” He eagerly added, “Will you watch the video, Mom?” I responded with what I thought would be good news, that I wouldn’t need to watch the video because I could come to his game too.
This, surprisingly, was not the reaction he was looking for. He shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes restless as he scanned the room, desperate to avoid making eye contact with me. Looking away, he muttered, “It might be a better idea if Aba just comes to my baseball game, and he can record it for you.” I was perplexed. He finally admitted that he didn’t want me to go because my 8-month pregnant existence would be embarrassing for him in front of his friends (who at this age knew how babies were made). At that moment, when David—without any intention—rejected me, and I felt angry and sad. My appreciation dissipated, and I created space between us.
Situations like these will arise that make us lack appreciation for our loved ones, but thankfully there are times that awaken renewed gratitude, and then the love comes rushing back. What’s important to remember is that love is always there. It’s up to us to reconnect with it.
In this way, appreciation is a spiritual force that helps to protect all we have. Just like I did with David, when we allow our appreciation to waver in challenging moments, we’re losing connection to our blessing. My lack of appreciation created a space between my son and I. So it is with everything in our life; when we lack appreciation, we lack. We can’t see the amazing things around us, and it’s as if our blessings don’t exist. When we’re in this state of consciousness, the goodness that is trying to reach us cannot land.
Often we complain we aren’t getting enough from life, or we’re not supported by our romantic partner, or we aren’t appreciated by our family. It is almost always because we are the ones who are not appreciative—not the other way around. If you want something, you first have to give it away. Think of your life as a farm. It provides fruit and vegetables, time and time again. But if you keep taking and never give back—don’t tend to anything, replant seeds, fertilize, water, and nurture it—will it keep providing for you? No.
Appreciate the beautiful fruits of your life. Harvest them, enjoy them fully, and then give back by tending and nurturing the things most precious to you. And on the days when you find it difficult to cultivate your appreciation, remember that your odds of ever being born were 1 in 400 trillion, and every morning you wake up is an improbable and beautiful gift.
Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours.