By Scott Spradley
Two weeks ago, I was leaving my downtown Flagler Beach office for the day. The day had carried with it the typical stresses, challenges and rewards of a small town law firm often going up against the large firms in a variety of client matters. This happens regularly since I represent individuals and small businesses seeking relief from significant debt issues, while the large law firms represent, you guessed it, the Banks.
It was dusk and I was ready to get home, leave work behind and play with the dogs. As I was walking to my car which was parked in front of the Flagler Beach Historical Museum, I happened to glance over my right shoulder. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. The moon was minutes away from being perched directly over the A-frame of the Flagler Beach pier. I retreated to my office to retrieve my trusty Nikon for what I felt would be a splendid opportunity to capture an amazing image.
What I did not realize until I actually captured and then reflected on that image, is the range of feelings and emotions that it created for me.
Let me back track for a moment. As I write these words on a chilly Christmas Eve morning, I am acutely aware of the conflict that has defined the recent past, from the obvious and too often hair-raising issues of national significance that we are bombarded with in a constant stream by the media–both traditional and social—to the regional, statewide and local issues that define our daily existence. Not the least of these being the harsh impact on many families in Flagler Beach and the surrounding area caused by the double-barreled assault by Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole.
As I look at the image of a perfectly full moon seemingly resting atop the A-frame, I experience a sense of calm, with the stress of the day transforming to feelings of gratitude for what is often overlooked. Gratitude. That’s it.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”—John F. Kennedy
I first became familiar with the true concept of gratitude in the Fall of 2009. At that moment in time, I had come to grips with, and waged a daily battle against, the demons of alcoholism and its impact on my life. I have been open about that struggle and the successes that have followed, all in the hope that my story and the current string of 13 plus years of sobriety will give hope to others similarly situated.
A large part of my success to date in “fighting the good fight” is having a constant awareness and sense of gratitude for what I have and what makes me, me. I am happy. I have a home. I have a job. I have a loving daughter. I have a true partner in her Mom despite the reality of a marriage that ended 15 years ago. I have a core of close friends, legions of casual acquaintances, and by last count, 2,695 Facebook friends who are not shy about sharing their own successes and failures to all who click the app.
But mostly, I am alive! I am grateful for that. And as JFK suggests, having gratitude is reflection, but it is mostly action. For me, that action takes form in using my experiences as motivation for spreading the word to others. With a bit of encouragement, tempered with kindness and empathy, an amazing amount of daily challenges can be met if not overcome.
“Reflect upon your present blessings—of which every man has many—not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”—Charles Dickens
Without using the word gratitude, Dickens has defined gratitude.
There is much to be said about the merits of maintaining awareness of that for which we can be grateful, and of putting past failures behind. For me, that awareness of present blessings allows a sense of hope to permeate and usually rise above any dread that I may be inclined to dwell upon. Looking ahead with laser focus on the positive and in light of past success is a sure formula, I believe, to overcome the pitfalls of negative thinking and loss of hope.
Will positive thinking immediately restore the flooded house? Or regain employment lost to business closure or medical issue? Not directly. But it is the hope for the future based on reflection of what we can be grateful for in the here and now that just may help clear the mind and allow for positive judgments and productive actions to be taken going forward. All of which just may allow those objectives to be reached. Sooner than later.
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: It must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.”—William Faulkner
Faulkner’s view of gratitude is also one of directing action. Having gratitude for what you have is the best formula to create incentive to strive for more, whether that’s feelings of comfort, successes in business, family or life generally, or just serenity.
Locally, there is much awareness of a neighbor on the south side of town who has seemingly put self before community. The immediate protection of our beach depends on her. She would not have to give up anything to grant us that protection. So far, she has chosen not to, drawing uniformly negative reactions. It is not difficult to imagine how one good decision on her part could vaporize those ill feelings and transform them into universal gratitude going forward. In the spirit of kindness, one can hope.
“Kindness is contagious. If you can be kind to other people, it’s going to come back to you.”–Herb Alpert
A few of my friends will no doubt get a chuckle of my inclusion of a Herb Alpert quote into this essay on gratitude. But the reference fits. Many will recall “Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass” as the most popular band in the world for a time–during the age of the Beatles, no less.
Well, based in his successes in music, in the recording industry (Herb was the “A” of A&M records) and more recently as a successful artist and sculptor, Herb is now a sprightly 87-year-old billionaire philanthropist. Basically his passion is to champion causes and give to others. For example, the historically significant Harlem School of the Arts was in the process of closing its doors in 2010 due to a series of poor financial judgments which overshadowed the rich history of this institution.
After reading a story of its impending closure, Herb began a series of donations to the school that now total in excess of $17 million. These donations in turn allowed the school to stay open and flourish. That’s just Herb. If asked, Herb will tell you that it is all about kindness, which has its roots in Herb’s gratitude for his own successes.
How do I know this? Because I asked him! About two years ago, I wrote a letter to Herb expressing my own gratitude for his music, which in the ‘60’s got me through a particularly painful series of childhood experiences. To my surprise, Herb called me to discuss the letter, and ultimately, my life, his life and everything under the sun. This began a phone call and email friendship that while odd in its origin, is especially meaningful to me today, especially when I discuss gratitude.
Back to the image of the moon over the pier. Every time I look at that image, I have a sensation of time stopping, of the corrosive energy of the day melting away and being replaced with positivity, with hope and with gratitude for what makes me smile. Join me in taking time to reflect on what you have, to appreciate and allow those thoughts–that moon–to fill your heart and light your smile for this Holiday Season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Scott Spradley, a lawyer and photographer and the author last fall of Spradley’s Beach-Side Blog on FlaglerLive during Hurricane Ian, has been a resident of Flagler Beach for 18 years. Disclosure: Spradley represents the county in a portion of its legal case against the dune-repair hold-out.