On Friday morning at 5:45 am, a neighbor in the building where I’ve been staying banged on my door to inform me that the ceiling was going to collapse. His apartment is directly below the apartment I’m staying in, so if the ceiling collapses, it’s going to hit me first.
That’ll get you out of bed in the morning. 😉
I opened the door to the apartment to discover that it was raining outside the apartment.
Not outside the building (well, that too).
Outside the apartment. In the hallway. The hallway ceiling, which hadn’t yet been repaired from a roof leak in August, was crumbling and falling to the floor. The ceiling in the apartment, which had also caved in August, was just fixed last week. It was still dry. For now.
The neighbor went down to the basement to get a bucket. Within 15 minutes, the bucket was 1/4 full with water.
In the past, this situation might have easily derailed my morning routine. Instead, I recognized the limits of what I could do at 6 am. I determined that the likelihood of a building collapse in the next two hours was low. And then I did what I do every morning: I went to the gym, did my workout and meditation practice, and writing.
In the past, this type of situation would also have caused me to go into anxiety and overwhelm as I scrambled to figure out a solution. Instead, I was calm. No fight-or-flight response.
In the past, I would have considered this to be a “nightmare” scenario. My recent living situation has drained my energy, and this was just one more thing to stack on the pile.
In another time in my life, that would have been the final item to push me into a fetal position while I dissolved in a puddle of tears and bemoaned the sorry state of my life. I might have even tried to recruit others to my pity party by sharing the tale of my misfortune.
Finding the Gifts
As I rode the subway downtown, I reflected on how I didn’t do any of that. Not even for a moment.
I approached the challenge with equanimity, remaining calm even as the ceiling literally crumbled to the ground.
Instinctively, I knew this was a sign. The apartment belongs to a client, and it’s time for me to move on. My intention has been to make a plan to leave NYC for the winter. This was a gentle nudge to hold me accountable.
I opened myself to gratitude. For now, there are no leaks in the apartment itself. I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, even if it is sloped.And I have the freedom to pick up and leave if I choose to.
The Power of Perspective
Just as I was getting out of the subway, I passed a man in a wheelchair who had no legs. Not even thighs. Just a torso on a chair.
And really, if we’re talking about “nightmares” that is my worst nightmare. My personal preference is that I’d rather be dead than be a stump on a wheelchair.
I was already in a good place about the current situation, but seeing the man offered me an added dose of perspective. Compared to what he is going through, this issue with the apartment and the leak is really just a minor inconvenience.
Taking a walk on the streets or in a subway station has always given me perspective on my blessings, especially when I felt like I had none.
Trading Expectation for Appreciation
A client once questioned this practice, wondering if it was “nice” to be grateful for something just because someone else lacked it. He asked if he should be grateful to have legs just because someone else doesn’t have legs.
He felt like he was using someone else’s bad situation as a way to be grateful for his situation.
It’s not quite that direct.
To use this example, you should be grateful for your legs because you have legs and they work. But we forget about that. We forget that legs are a thing to be grateful for because most people have working legs.
Sometimes we don’t think to be grateful for something so obvious until it’s taken from us. We expect to have legs, to wake up in the morning and stand on our feet. So if that is the case for us, we often overlook it.
Seeing someone who is a stump on a wheelchair reminds us: I have legs. I can move on my own without the aid of a device. All things to be grateful for.
Temporary vs Permanent
Beyond that, seeing an amputee in a wheelchair reminded me that this crumbling ceiling and possible mold situation is only temporary. At most it is a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of my life.
People go through worse. I have personally been through worse. This year.
Problems vs Dreams
Finally, seeing the man in the wheelchair reminded me of another truth:
Your worst problem is someone else’s dream.
There are people who would give everything to sleep in an apartment with mold and water damage and leaks because it’s safe and there’s a bed and warm blankets. This is New York City. I don’t have to go far to find them.
I have choice to go elsewhere if I choose to. Not everyone has such luxuries. I can look at any facet of this current situation and think about someone who would be grateful to step into it.
Your worst problem is somebody else’s dream.
If you’re struggling to feel grateful, search first for perspective. With a broader perspective, you’ll see your blessings rise to the surface.