193: “Charming Gardeners” (Marcel Proust)

                “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” -Marcel Proust, “Regrets, Reveries, Changing Skies”

                On my birthday–you know; today–I suggest to each of my classes that we do an appreciation circle. (I usually spend a few minutes trying to come up with a better name, too; a “Friend Zone,” one student suggested; a “round of respect;” a “grateful-go-round.”) The set-up is pretty simple. We sit in a circle. On your turn, you listen quietly while everyone else has a chance to say what they respect, admire, or appreciate about you. Then it’s someone else’s turn. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you can require anyone to do, but I invite each class to try, and almost all of them want to.
                Today, at 8:52 on a Wednesday morning, before we all went off to our tornado drills and history tests, one student commented, “I think we’re getting better at this.” And we were. At the beginning, people joked and teased each other–they messed around on the surface, not sure about diving down. Twenty minutes later, they were ready to share the recognitions they usually kept to themselves.
                “You really listen, to everyone.”
                “You laugh at your mistakes, and learn from them.”
                “When I came here, you were the first person who made me think this could be home.”
                “I appreciate how you look out for me.”
                “I appreciate how much you listen.”
                Proust says there are people who help our souls blossom, who give us space to open into ourselves and share whatever fruit ripens. He says our blossoming is related to happiness, to cheerfulness. Perhaps joy reminds us that we can sink our roots into whatever we’re working on, and open our leaves to the sun. I wonder if the gratitude itself is another kind of blossoming. The more I look toward what I appreciate, the more I see it. The more I talk about what I admire in anyone, the more I see to admire. Gratitude opens, and I fall through it toward all the charming, blossoming, promising things that have always been here.

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