Saturday, April 7, 2012

Appreciate What You Value in Life

Queen of the Night by Kathy Sterndahl
Cereus - Reina de la Noche - Queen of the Night

The Riena de la Noche is an amazing succulent. When fully open, the flowers measure at least six or seven inches across. But you have to be sure that you pay careful attention; all the flowers on the plant open at the same time - in the middle of the night - and for one night only. If you're not careful, you'll miss it and have to wait for a whole year for it to happen again.

Some of the most wonderful things in life are like this flower. If you forget to pay attention, before you know it, you will have missed it. And so often, we do forget to pay attention. We get so wrapped up in work or play or even watching television, that the world just passes us by and we don't even notice.

When I lived in Japan, I got to experience the importance the Japanese people give to so many things that come and go without our notice. I attended a special ceremony to celebrate a full moon at a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. Moon-viewing parties have been a tradition in Japan for centuries.

When the weather cooled and the maple leaves started changing, they were so beautiful that it just took my breath away! I couldn't get enough of them. I spent my days walking through parks on carpets of brilliant red and orange leaves and with more of then as a roof over my head. Another area was full of bright golden-yellow gingko leaves. They were everywhere I looked. Even the foothills that surround Kyoto were dotted with the autumn colors. Were they growing there naturally, or had someone planted them hundreds of years before in anticipation of the effect? I was like a kid in elementary school; I wanted to gather all my favorites and take them home. How could I ever decide which ones to take? But all too soon, the trees were empty and the color was gone.

The same thing happens in Japan in the spring when the cherries bloom.The people pack elaborate picnics and spread their blankets under the cherry trees. Blossoms drift down like snow, covering their hair, the blankets, and even the food. People plan vacations to follow the blossoms, starting in the south and moving north with the warmer weather. Unfortunately, I had to leave Japan before it was time for the cherries, but I was still there when Osaka castle was surrounded by clouds of white plum blossoms in February. I moved from Japan to Portland, Oregon, and was delighted to find that my neighborhood had so many cherry trees. I didn't miss them after all, but no one celebrated them in Portland like they do in Japan.

The treasured, fleeting thing that comes to my mind closer to home is the speed at which our children grow and change. One minute they are tiny babies and the next they are teenagers driving us crazy. Before we know it, they are married with families of their own. It is so easy, especially today with both parents working, to be so absorbed with work and bills and all of the little daily problems, that we almost forget to notice how quickly they are growing and changing. It is hard enough for me to realize that my son is 40 years old; how can that be? And my grandson will be 18 in two months! That can't be possible! Even my 'baby' is thirty. Where did all that time go?

What makes all these things so special is the fact that they are here and then they aren't. But we have to learn to pay better attention or, before we know it, the things we value will be gone forever - or at least until next year. Don't forget to appreciate your family, your friends, and the beauty of nature all around you.

Some day soon I'll get back to Japan to reunite with old friends and celebrate the 'snow' of cherry blossoms on my picnic lunch, but until then I will try to remember the lesson I learned from them to pay attention and appreciate the wonderful things in my life during the short time I have to enjoy them.

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