I love days that I know exactly what my father would be doing if he were still alive. Every year, I know that on the last weekend of April he would be sitting in the stands at Franklin Field in Philadelphia watching the Penn relays track meet. I know that on Easter morning he would for sure be at mass with us. On days that Caroline has a cross country meet I know that he would be yelling for her at the finish line, and I know that today, because it is 21 degrees, snowing and icy outside, he would be out for a long run. Maybe not that long of a run because he would be 82, but he would be out for some sort of a run.
Growing up, if it were a freezing, snowy, icy day outside we would be in the family room watching TV. The fire would be going and we would all be in warm sweatshirts and wool socks (ohhh…nothing beats a good old pair of Wigwam socks in January!) and my father would all of a sudden get up and leave the room.
He would return in shorts, a t-shirt and his running shoes and my mother would roll her eyes and tell him he was out of his mind. My Dad would respond by putting his fists in the air and yelling “WOOOOOOOOO!!” and head out the door for a run. He would sometimes be known to put a hat on, but I ‘m not sure of the determining factors that were involved in this decision. So off he went, in a t-shirt and shorts and sometimes hatless, out for a run on a freezing cold day while the rest of us sat by the fire and drank hot Campbell’s soup.
He would return sometime later, red faced and cringing, clearly in pain and my mother would simply shake her head. It was a regular routine for snowy days in Bernardsville that she had come to somewhat accept. My father would then run up the stairs, and jump in a COLD shower!! He would scream his head off for a few seconds until we heard the water stop. My mother, still under a blanket on the couch would lift her eyes from the paper for only a moment, glance upward and just continue with the head shake.
When my father came back into the room he would be in two pairs of plaid flannel pajamas and a long plaid flannel robe and slippers holding a steaming hot cup of coffee in his hand. He would sit back down in his leather chair and start watching the football game again and would say something like “Yup Meggy Meg! We got it pretty good here in B’Ville!” And this comment sums up exactly why he did things like this…because he believed so strongly about “how good we’ve got it here in Bernardsville.” The reason he didn’t (or couldn’t get himself to) sit and relax by the fire on a day like this was because he was so acutely grateful for our home, the warmth, the ease and luxuries that so many people around the world don’t have and that he was afraid, if he got too comfortable, he may forget how blessed he was. He would do things like this to help him remember and take nothing for granted. This is why early Heartworkers may remember me asking them on cold nights to leave their coats inside and join me outside for a few minutes to help us be grateful for the heat in our homes.
Some may think this practice is crazy (I get it) but it is something I do pretty much on a daily basis. I walk outside in winter in bare feet when I need a Diet Coke from my trunk to remind me to be grateful for shoes, hold off eating an hour after I am hungry to remind me to be grateful for the availability of food, not take an aspirin when I have a headache to remind me to be grateful for a pain free body. Not drink water when I am thirsty to remind me of the privilege of clean drinking water. There are a ton of ways to do this exercise and it keeps my perceptions in check.
My father never wanted to take anything for granted so he actively created ways to help him feel the gifts in his life. Imitating this practice helps me feel close to him, but I have to come clean…I did not go on a run today in shorts and a t-shirt and I did not take a cold shower, but I did write about it so maybe that counts for something…(I know…not really) .