Selected Excerpts from Chapter 4 - Learning to See

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When I was a teenager we lived in a very manicured, upscale neighborhood in the Maryland suburbs. Except for the wooded lots, all vestiges of the area’s past had been completely swept away by the developer’s bulldozers. Years after moving out of that area I ran into a woman who grew up within walking distance of my house. She began to tell me about a low lying area of flood plane that I had seen countless times but never bothered to notice or visit. It was nothing more than an overgrown gulley that carried the runoff in heavy rains. As she talked, my sterile street began to fill with history. That weed choked gulley had been the site of a small revolutionary war battle, and she and her friends had found lead musket balls and the rusting remains of old guns. She saw what I didn’t.

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Developing new eyes is not a mystical experience that requires a trip to a mountain hermit. It is simply doing the deliberate and sometimes hard work of noticing and being grateful for the things around you. There are a variety of techniques to do this but they all have, at their root, a determined sense of gratitude. Gratitude is not a natural condition because we tend to look “up” at those who have what we want and not “down” at those who want what we have. When you begin to view the mundane things around you as things that someone else would long for, they take on a new value.

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Is it possible that your local area is a travel destination? You might be surprised. I’ve never put Cleveland, Ohio on a list of places to visit before I die and yet two couples we know did. We were completely baffled when they announced that they were going to trade their timeshare week (they both have timeshares in very exotic locations) for a week in Cleveland. They seemed to understand the polite, blank stare we gave them and explained that they are roller coaster fans and a particularly good coaster is in Cleveland. They went on to explain all the virtues of Cleveland what a remarkably good destination it was for a vacation. They were especially pleased with the lack of crowds – something I thought would be self-evident.


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