Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

A Nudge from a Stranger  

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Aesop

I’m exhausted and teary-eyed. It’s over. A year’s worth of planning, organizing, begging, cajoling, worrying and praying is done. Well, it’s not truly done until the paperwork and numbers are submitted. Did we accomplish what we initially said we would? Yes, we did. I had the proof, long before launch date, in spreadsheets full of numbers analysed on different parameters. In addition to a spreadsheet analysis, I will write reports and incorporate participant feedback. I will record these tangible measures of success and forward this to our funding sources, but I’m not sure they will tell the whole story. Some lessons are difficult to capture in a report.

 For the past twelve years I’ve organized a writers festival in Whistler. It’s something I started in my living room, a way to connect writers to each other and to their audience. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I like bringing people together, I like the stimulation of good conversation, and I love books.

The thing is, this little festival has grown so much bigger than one person can manage. It’s not that people haven’t offered to help. They have in droves, which I appreciate more than I can ever express in such inadequate words like, thank you.

When things go wrong or I’m overwhelmed by all that has to be done, I complain, refer to the festival as the festival from hell. And believe me this is not a term of endearment or affection. I question my abilities, my sanity, and most importantly myself. I feel as though I’m running headlong into a disaster I can’t see, but know is there. It seems too much for me to cope with and I lose sight of why I do it.

It’s at these times I escape into my garden to get some perspective. There’s nothing like hacking at weeds to help deal with frustration. On one of these forays, as I stood on top of my rock wall, stretching out to slash at a particularly stubborn weed, a car stopped on the road just in front of me. I looked up and lost my balance.

I regained it quickly, narrowly missing a tumble.

The woman smiled. I’m sure I responded with a scowl.  What did this stranger want? Doesn’t she know I’m busy? Doesn’t she know I’ve got lots on my mind?

“I just want you to know,” the woman began, “that I stop here every morning on my way to work.” She brimmed. “To admire your garden. It’s so beautiful.”

The garden, my garden, the one I call, the garden from hell, gives pleasure to this stranger. I never thought about that before. How nice is that?

Yes, I could and do complain about how big the garden is, how much work it is, how I take my life into my own hands every time I balance on one of those slippery rock walls, but what does she care about any of this. She enjoys the garden. What kind of person would I be if I took that away from her?

I felt the anger drain from me. I said, “thank you. You are so kind. You made my day. Thank you so much for stopping, for telling me how you feel about the garden.”

The lesson learned in the garden that day is the same one I re-learn during each and every festival. I’m a slow learner. But I need to remember not to let the work and the frustrations cloud and diminish my gratefulness.

And I am grateful. Grateful for those who offer a helping hand or send lovely notes of support. I’m grateful for the connections made, the friendships developed. And I’m grateful that I can do this, this organizing, this bringing people together. It is rewarding work that leaves me replenished and exhausted, content and teary, and completely committed to what I do.

It’s this kind of lesson learned that is difficult to capture in a final report.

Aesop was right. Gratitude is a sign of a noble soul. I have a long way to go on that front. Still, I’m grateful for the little reminders of strangers.

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