Crunchy Leaves and the Smell of Snow

Crunchy Leaves and the Smell of Snow

Fourteen years ago, my volunteer work landed me a teaching opportunity at an addiction recovery center in downtown Salt Lake.  I walked into a room of 40 recovering addicts.  Believe me--I was nervous.  I’ve never put a cigarette to my lips, smoked a joint, drank a beer, never sipped a cup of coffee, or experienced getting high.  One could say I had no business offering any understanding to those dealing with alcoholism or drug addiction.  And, yet, so many cherished and important lessons in my life have come from women in recovery.  

With November being a month focused on thankfulness, I remember one particular lesson I'll never forget.  

I walked into the room with my three little kids obediently following behind me, like ducklings would follow a mother duck.  I set my craft buckets on the floor, introduced myself while handing my kids coloring books and crayons to keep them busy.  I then introduced to the women a quick gratitude exercise.  I asked them to write down things they were grateful for--as many as they could think of in two minutes.  To my surprise, their pencils flew across their papers!  I had assumed naively I was there to teach women who might not know how to appreciate the good things in life.  And, yet, to them, quickly I became the student. 

I invited the women to share what they'd written down.  Eagerly their hands raised.  Without fail, they listed sobriety number one on their lists, because they understood that without sobriety—that one thing—they would have nothing.  That was so humbling for me to think about.  That without having a clean, clear, mind and body NOTHING could be seen as a blessing.  Addiction was a thief that would rob them of noticing their blessings.  

Then the BIG lesson came as two women shared their stories.  The first woman explained how grateful she was for the sound of crunching leaves on the sidewalk, as she walked to treatment that morning. She'd been incarcerated for a year.  She expressed how she'd noticed how wonderful it was to hear the sound of crunching leaves beneath her feet.  A crunching sound may not seem like much to some.  But then she said, "I lived in a cell.  And walked around a gated courtyard for a year.  I didn't see a tree for an entire year!"

I got it!  Boy did I get it!  

Being free to walk down a sidewalk, to actually be able to walk up to a tree, and touch the bark; to feel it with your bare hands and pick up the crunchy leaves and throw them into the air for the first time in 365 days!  That was something to be grateful for.  How blessed she said she was to walk FREELY down a sidewalk lined with giant maples and oaks with their red, orange, and gold leaves scattering the walkway.  I could tell to her the experience was nothing short of a miracle.    

I was grateful, too.  In that very moment, I was grateful for crunchy leaves and tall trees.  I couldn't wait to walk down that sidewalk out in front of the building and experience it the way she had.    

Another woman forever changed the way I look at snow.  I never thought of snow actually having a smell until Debbie shared with me her story.  She expressed how depressing it felt to be in her cell hour after hour, especially because the bars were up high blocking a single, small window that couldn’t be opened.  She longed to smell fresh air.  Wintertime came and she said she grew more and more depressed.  She remembered one day it started snowing and how she'd looked up to see snowflakes falling outside!  She said she couldn’t wait for her 30 minutes (can you imagine only 20 minutes?) to be outside to smell the snow.  She described the smell as fresh, wet, and clean.  But then she told me it was that smell that motivated her to start following the rules of the jail so she could earn more time outside.  It was that smell that motivated her to change her attitude and gave her hope to dream of life outside the bars.  Even when others around her were negative and crass, she understood her rule following and positive attitude would give her the privilege of being able to smell the glorious snow!  That, she said is what gave her the courage to get through one more day, and all through the winter.  And all through her sentence. 

Until I met this met Debbie I'd never considered what snow smelled like.    

But I do now.  

Because of these two women in recovery, every snowfall I breathe in the fresh smell of snowflakes and enjoy stomping on crunchy, fallen leaves. I won't ever take them for granted--ever again. 

That day I could see how gratitude is the key to unlock even the hardest of hearts--even hearts locked away and imprisoned by addiction.  Even hearts who've lost everything--family, children, relationships, jobs, health, homes, money, friends.  

Gratitude helps every soul--even those lost then found.  

To me, gratitude is a healing process for the heart.  When thankfulness takes the place where bitterness once lived it opens a soul to the possibilities of small miracles--even the sound of crunchy leaves and the smell of snow.





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