On Appreciation

The sun rises every day, but how often do you take the time to notice it? Have you ever felt like it was something so far away as to be nearly impossible?

I remember once, in the early portion of my training in Naval Special Warfare, being led by the arms from my cell down a few steps and across a courtyard of some sort. I had counted the paces off to every area that I walked to and knew that I was about 20 steps away from the interrogation rooms. Through a hole in the bottom of the black hood tied over my head, I could see that the snow was beginning to catch rays of sunlight.

At the sight of the first golden rays of sun glistening off the ice, I felt waves of relief, even elation. It meant that meant that another night had passed and I was on the final day of captivity in the school. Despite where I was walking, the only thing I really felt was gratitude for the sun for having finally returned.

Every once in a while I take some time in the morning to read a book on my balcony, even in the winter months. I’m usually there before the sun rises enough for direct sunlight to angle into the balcony. Although I’m immersed in the book and put a measure of conscious effort into not allowing the cold that I feel to affect my focus, as soon as those waves of warmth hit my toes on the railing my entire body feels contented and I feel something akin to the simple-pleasure-small-victory sensation that I did that morning almost a half decade ago in that school.

I realized that a good many of the best small moments of my life were in the gratitude felt for the rising of the sun, as if this event were something that I had not fully expected to occur. To me, and any of my friends in the military, this feeling came from knowing that the night’s misery had come to end and I was one step closer. One step closer to rest, respite and even just warmth and dry clothes.

Another night comes to mind; this time going through the Naval Special Warfare Selection for SWCC. We were cold, soaking wet and miserable, covered in sand in our camouflage uniforms on the edge of the 50-degree ocean and cranking out pushups and mountain climbers. Instructors paced throughout our ranks, yelling admonitions, doling out further torment and pouncing on anyone who appeared to be breaking down. During a lull in the shouting, someone down the line called out, “Hey, guys… Just remember, they can’t stop the sun.”

It was a cheesy thing to say at the time, and since the instructors heard it we paid for that with an extra trip into the surf for “a fresh coat of wet,” but whoever it was who said it made a good point. Several hours worth of running around in near-hypothermic torment later, the sun did rise. And my god, did it feel good.

Those of us who made it to deployments learned how realistic this training was when we repeatedly suffered through nights of misery and felt the first rays of morning sun with a mixture of wonder, appreciation and relief.

Last summer I was working on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska. It was my first trip there, and a friend who had spent several years doing it in the past had given me some advice on what to wear. The fact that my friend is a hefty powerlifter with almost 100 pounds more bodyweight than me and nowhere near the single digit bodyfat that I carry did not really register when he said, “I usually just wear a single layer of thermals under my waders. Otherwise I get too hot.”

Right around three or four in the morning in Bristol Bay, just as the sun starts to rise, a heavy fog rolls in and completely envelops you in a world of silver. This time also coincides with a lull in the fishing which leaves you with little to do but attempt to take a nap on the cold aluminum boat, propped up on a lifejacket. Something about this fog causes the temperature to immediately drop by what feels like twenty degrees. What had been mildly chilly becomes numbing. Coincidentally, the first morning I experienced this I also had a hole in my waders and was completely soaking wet.

I lay there curled up in my rain jacket with my teeth chattering, repeatedly turning over in my mind the words “Otherwise, I get too hot…” while mentally devising elaborate ways to kill my friend once I got home.

About two hours later, the sun suddenly burned through the fog and we were bathed in wonderful, warm sunlight. Despite being covered in fish slime, hungry and exhausted, I was probably more contented at that moment than a good many of the doughy Americans sitting warm and dry on their couches were at the same moment.

When was the last time you felt a sense of true, deep appreciation for something? When we’re stripped of the nonsense we surround our modern lives with, the things that really matter in our lives are very simple. The warmth of the sun, the glow of a loved one’s smile, laughing uncontrollably with your friends.

Take a moment today to recognize that and truly appreciate something.

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