I’m never one to “celebrate” on New Year’s Eve. You won’t find me at a party drinking champagne and making a lot of noise. I tend to retreat inward and enjoy the ringing in of a new year with some quiet reflection and time alone – emphasis on the “quiet” and “alone.”
This year, having had to work on New Year’s Eve, I decided to wake up bright and early on New Year’s Day, drive out to the ocean, and spend some time alone, thinking about what I want this year to hold for me. 2013 was (to be honest) a pretty miserable year, and I mean that in a loving, “you really helped me to grow,” kind of way – but I am truly happy to see it go.
The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful – the sky was stark blue, the air was perfect in that not-too-warm-but-not-too-cold way only southern California is capable of – and as I soaked in the sunshine on the drive out to my favorite spot in Santa Monica, I started thinking about things I want for this year:
I want to write more.
I want to meet more people.
I want to help more people.
I want to find a way to combine all of these things into a job.
But what I want most is to feel inspired. To feel that yearning and need to conquer the world; to look at every day, normal things and see the miracles they hold. To feel that spark. But, where to look? Where do I begin? All of these things plagued my mind.
I parked my car, fed my parking meter, and threw on my best “don’t talk to me” look (ladies, I know you’re all familiar with this). I was over-tired and crabby. I wanted to be completely alone. I was dead-set on doing some deep thinking and asking God for direction.
As I sat myself on the railing overlooking the brilliant coastline, the breeze gently blew my hair, the sun warmed my skin. I closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sky……
….and I heard a male voice to my right say, “Hello!”
“You have to be kidding me,” I thought. I had been sitting a total of ONE minute at this point, and couldn’t believe my solitude was being disrupted so quickly. I’m used to people talking to me…it happens frequently and usually I’m all ears – but just this once, I wanted peace. I begrudgingly looked over, and indeed, the voice was directed at me – the source was an older man of about 65-70. He had a kind smile, and was all alone, and even though I was being crabby, I allowed the corners of my mouth to curl up ever so slightly and say a soft “hello” in return.
This was the end of my solitude. The man walked over to me, extended his hand, and introduced himself as “Shawn.” What followed was nothing short of beautiful.
Life has a way of bringing us exactly what we need if we open ourselves up to it.
Shawn came here to the United States from Iran. In his thickly accented English, he told me he’d come here to be free. He’d come here to escape the things that made him feel like a prisoner in his own country.
In the next hour and a half, he told me so many stories – stories that made me feel such a deep sense of appreciation and adoration for our country. Stories of how limited freedom was in his country. I asked him what bothered him the most about where he came from and the first thing he said was about women: He didn’t like how women were treated and it hurt his heart that they were forced to cover their bodies and faces, hiding thier feminity from the world; remaining unheard and disrespected.
How intensely grateful and acutely aware I suddenly was that I was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt – that I was free to feel the sun on my arms and face. How amazingly beautiful. I thanked him for reminding me of this.
He told me of a time when he applied for a job with the U.S. government to serve as a translator. In his letter to the government, he wrote of why he wanted the job and how much he appreciated this country. He then wrote about a president that he disagreed with – a president that he felt had contributed to more unrest in Iran. He didn’t get the job. The government didn’t like what he had to say about the particular president he referred to. BUT, he reminded me, he was FREE to voice that opinion. Again, what an amazingly beautiful thing. To be able to voice your opinion and not be punished for it.
He told me about a time he had been drinking with his friends in Iran, and how this was not allowed. He and his friends were stopped in the street by police and questioned for hours and hours and hours, because it was breaking the law to be consuming alcohol. How grateful I suddenly felt that I’d been able to have a glass of wine in a restaurant earlier in the week.
He spoke about his travels throughout the world and how Brazil is the most beautiful place he’s ever seen in his entire life, and Greece is the closest he imagines to paradise. Yet, he chose to live here, in our beautifully flawed United States. To call this country “home.”
Shawn now runs two small businesses in Los Angeles…because he can. The joy radiating from his eyes and his face for the life he’s free to live was alive in the air around him. This man is HAPPY.
We talked until I had to return to my car because my meter had expired. I realized that I had gotten exactly what I’d come to the ocean to get: Inspiration.
Before we left, I asked Shawn if I could take his photo and write about the things he’d told me. He proudly stood for the photo and was overjoyed at the thought of me writing about him. Thank you, Shawn, for making my day so wonderful.
I wanted to share this experience with anyone willing to take the time to read this.
As I step foot into this new year, I want to remind myself every single day to be full of gratitude and appreciation for the life that I have. To remind myself that there is inspiration EVERYWHERE; the difference between seeing it and not seeing it lies within my own mind. What a beautiful gift I’d been given on the very first day of this new year.
Happy New Year to all of you.
Here’s to a year full of inspiration…