I’ve been rewatching Yellowstone. At one point, a Native American elder tells a younger man, “You must stand on a cliff of death to understand your purpose in life. It’s the only place where you can see it.” At first, that may seem a little extreme, but there is significant truth there. Unfortunately, we are sometimes unable to appreciate what we have until after it is gone. Similarly, we are often unable to see our future because we are blinded by the present.
This was the second year in a row that I was sick during Thanksgiving. Last year, my wife and I had COVID; this year I had a sinus infection. In both cases, I was unable to fully participate in the day. The year before, COVID took my sense of taste and smell. I was unable to enjoy the food that is so integral to my concept of Thanksgiving Day. This year, while I could taste the food, I was unable to be with everyone, and I realized that what is most important about this day is the people.
The danger of complacency is that we get used to what we have and then forget how miraculous it is. Gratefulness is both the vaccine and the cure for complacency. It is also how we can see our purpose in life without having to stand on a cliff of death.
I have had lots of opportunities to stand on cliffs of death. Some were small. Death of an idea, death of a goal, death of a relationship. Some were much bigger. All of them were preceded by a lack of gratefulness. A failure on my part to understand how blessed I was. An inability to see my purpose in life because my sight was clouded by discontent and complacency.
Being grateful is an acknowledgment that I did not attain or acquire what I have on my own. That knowledge helps me hold onto the present loosely, enjoying it for what it is, but not using it as validation for who I am. That makes the difference. When what we have and what we do starts to be who we are, we lose the ability to see beyond today.
Addicts usually have significant stories of loss that led to recovery. It is rare for health to come without standing on that cliff. Matty Healy, of The 1975, was one of those rare stories. About his recovery from heroin addiction he says, “I just felt so lucky. I hadn’t lost anything really. And that’s normally why people go to rehab, because they lost so much they can’t bear to lose anything else. But I was lucky.”
Most of us aren’t lucky, but we aren’t in danger of physical death either. However, our lack of gratefulness and subsequent blindness leads to loss after loss, most of which we will never even know. This is compounded when we are in positions of leadership. Then, our inability to see prevents us from leading our teams to the new places we should go.
Our purpose in life is simple. We are here to take care of each other. How we do that is different for each of us. If we are unable or unwilling to acknowledge how much we need each other, we are destined to stand on a cliff of death, possibly over and over. However, if we are grateful to be, grateful for the moment, grateful for each other, we have an opportunity to see our purpose in life from a place of health and community instead of a cliff of death. I am grateful to be part of that kind of community. I am grateful I get to live the Bison Way.