By Kaethe Kauffman. Re-printed with permission.
Every ten days or so, I spoke to my spiritual counselor and she often advised me to deepen my gratitude. In our land of plenty and at a time of personal financial comfort, I tried feeling sincerely grateful for food and shelter, things I normally took for granted. Slowly, in my everyday life, an appreciative attitude became a discipline. Trying to expand this positive mindset, in my journal, I made regular gratitude lists and used them when I honestly gave thanks in my daily meditations.
One day, I accidently found an unexpected whopper of a source for new thankfulness. Daily, I walked around my urban neighborhood, a diverse blend of auto repair shops and new condos, the homeless and penthouse owners. I found myself in the middle economic range of all these folks and felt happy to be there. For exercise, I completed an enjoyable two mile or four mile route most days. Occasionally, a few of our local homeless and some young people appeared to be high on drugs. My inner radar normally ran a quick scan to check for safety concerns – business as usual in a city. I’ve now gained new appreciation for these instincts I’ve honed on my walks.
Last week, I headed home on the third mile of my urban sidewalk trail, alongside a busy six-lane street. I was about to pass a quiet man in his twenties wearing a faded turquoise t-shirt, seated on a low cement retaining wall, well-groomed, a normal-looking person.
Although the dark-haired male stayed quietly seated, my intuition picked up something weird. I hadn’t yet looked directly at him, but I’d scanned him in my peripheral vision. Prompted by my sense that something felt peculiar, I glanced at him as I passed, maintaining my usual quick pace.
What I saw caused an instant bolt of adrenaline to flood my spine all the way down to my feet. Fight or flight kicked in. In a typically male seated stance, the young man had spread his knees apart. He wore nothing under the turquoise t-shirt, exposing all his genitals, frontal view.
It seemed important to act calm, to deny giving him the satisfaction of seeing me scared. My heart pounded in my ears, but my pace never faltered. If he would perform such an extreme antisocial act, my jangling nerves told me he might attack me. I did what my self-defense classes had taught: I walked to a safe place, a bus stop one-half block away. Luckily, the flasher didn’t follow me. A woman with two young children headed in his direction. Although I felt reluctant to bother her as she tried to manage two toddlers, it seemed as though a force much greater than myself, my instincts perhaps, shoved me towards the woman to alert her to the danger. I succumbed to this powerful feeling and warned her. I called the police and followed their instructions, feeling very relieved that, in Hawaii, I trusted the police to truly help me. However, I felt relieved they didn’t need me to stay. With a deep sigh, I continued my walk home and slowly calmed down.
I felt enormously grateful the man hadn’t followed me or further harassed me. Just as my spiritual advisor had counseled, I found myself able to feel deeply thankful for something new – simply finishing my walk in peace.
The next week, I gathered my courage to walk my four mile route again. I experienced new depths of thankfulness when the young man didn’t show up. As an additional bonus, all the men I saw on my walk kept their pants on. Glory Hallelujah. I felt deep, sincere joy and relief for something I’d taken for granted before, men wearing pants in public.
Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.