It was one of the sunniest days we’ve seen this spring, and the four of us who went off to Staufen for tea were misled by the sunshine, opting to leave our jackets in the car and subsequently freezing entire body parts into oblivion… But the cold that prevented us from scaling the path up to the old town’s ruins also forced us more quickly into Café Decker…and that’s the kind of confinement to which I’ll gladly submit. One of my secret ambitions has always been to take a ride on one of those rotating dessert-displays you see in tacky restaurants, and sitting in Decker is probably as close as I’ll ever get to the actual experience! The sheer number of desserts to choose from is dizzying…
We made an unscheduled stop on the way home. Mari Ellen directed us to small Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of a tiny village, and we wandered around trying to decipher names on worn gravestones and pondering the irony of finding such a site nestled away in the hills of Germany’s Schwartzwald. We were about to leave when Mari Ellen, who had been looking at the grave of someone who died in the 1930s, commented that the deceased had no idea what he/she’d escaped by dying before the beginning of World War II.
Her comment set my mind spinning for a while, and the conclusion I reached is this: we spend so much time contemplating what has “happened” to us in the course of our lifetimes, but wouldn’t our outlook be different if we took a moment instead, from time to time, to contemplate what hasn’t happened to us. Though our lives aren’t constant walks in the park, I think it’s safe to assume that if we truly took the time to think of those traumas and tragedies that haven’t befallen us, we might be more prone to gratitude.
I spent a good portion of my youth embroiled in a “why me” miasma that was a downward spiral into self-absorption and cynicism. Granted, there were reasons for my unhappiness, but now that I’ve grown and gained perspective, I find it an interesting exercise to focus not on what I have survived but on what I haven’t had to overcome. Yes, there have been challenges, but there could have been more! Those Jewish graves tell the story of dozens of people whose deaths were tragic, undoubtedly causing grief and loss among those who loved them—and who commemorated their lives by placing small stones atop the grave markers, as Jewish tradition dictates. But even as they perished, they had no idea of the unfathomable terror that lay only years ahead. Despite the hardships in their lives (and I don’t mean to minimize those!), they had been spared much more.
Go ahead and try it. Begin a list of all the things that could have happened to you in the course of a lifetime, a list of the crimes you’ve escaped, the diseases you’ve avoided and the accidents you’ve sidestepped. When you watch the news or read the newspaper, be conscious that those of whom you’ve read were not spared…and yet you were. There’s no use in trying to make sense of who suffers and who doesn’t—but there is great value in being aware of the ways in which we haven’t suffered and in being grateful for the reprieve some others weren’t granted. It’s a simple thing called perspective and it is, in my humble opinion, a pretty nifty (and essential) invention!