Three things make me stop what I’m doing at work for an appreciation time-out: dramatic skies, dogs and babies who have not yet developed egos.
There’s a lot of the first in the Rockies, and a fair amount of the second and third at the store where I work. We take seriously our mission to educate and outfit people for camping, climbing and other outdoor activities, and work hard to help customers. But we also appreciate beauty, and the value of play.
So as I was emptying recycle into a bin just outside the store early last evening, I took a couple of minutes to gaze, slack-jawed, at the sky’s day-to-dusk metamorphosis. Splendid, it was: cerulean and feathered with peach-tinted clouds to the west, while a fat crescent moon edged up a black sapphire backdrop to the east.
I alerted nearby co-workers and several, including a store manager, broke away from the sale crunch long enough to hustle outside and look. This is one reason I value my co-workers: even in the trenches of Black Friday’s combat consumerism, they pause to appreciate ephemeral beauty. All that remained when I drove home 20 minutes later was the jagged ridgeline of the mountains etched against a fading light.
My other two mandatory breaks — dogs and babies — are indoor pleasures and thus more regular. It is impossible to overestimate the restorative powers of even a brief encounter with a good-natured canine. My store sells outdoor gear for dogs, too — backpacks, booties and even flotation vests — and their people often want a tolerance test before purchase. Or, customers bring in puppies for socialization, youngsters who wag their entire bodies, each delicate hair of their silky coats gleaming beneath the coarse fluorescence of retail lighting. We see old dogs, too, who lie patiently on carpet worn by a million human footfalls as their people get fitted for hiking boots. They are content to be let alone, but gracious about being petted, too, having learned a great deal of forbearance from a lifetime of human companionship.
I have always loved animals, so my gladness at seeing dogs in the store does not surprise me. But the way I feel about babies does. I am generally not fond of children, and decidedly averse to spoiled and otherwise ill-mannered kids, of whom I see too many. But babies of a certain age — somewhere past the puckered-face residue of birth trauma and before the realization of separateness that heralds an ego — look at the world with such wonder that they reawaken the same in the crustiest curmudgeon.
A few days ago, it was Cameron, whose improbable mop of black hair, antic ears and well-developed eyebrows —never have I seen such large baby brows — had me smiling as openly as he was. (It helped that he also had hiccups.) Yesterday, it was Hannah, whose complete cuteness and delighted interest — she looked at me with rapt attention, then giggled and giggled — made me feel, for just a minute, that I, too, might be lovable.
Too soon, those babies will become like the rest of us, aware of a separate self and invested in protecting it. For now, though, they are, in the words of German-born author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, “fragile, delicate, not yet firmly established in materiality.” They have not yet coalesced around an ego, and for a while longer will belong more to the world from which they came than to ours.
I am grateful for these encounters at my little retail job: the skies, the dogs, the babies. Glad, in the midst of it all, to sense the portal through which magic enters the mundane.