David Shechtman allows us to see a small, beautiful moment between him and his daughter, and shows us what gratitude is all about.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday I want to share my gratitude about one the most important relationships in my life. This is my relationship with my nine-year-old daughter. She has taught me so much more than I’ve taught her, and I don’t expect that trend to stop.
Since my early twenties I’ve had a fascination with Eastern religions, namely Buddhism. These wisdom traditions not only seem different than mainstream Western ones, they also seem deeper and more expansive. The messages seem more about personal empowerment than individual submission to authority.
Yet beyond reading a lot of books and a few bungled attempts at meditation, I hadn’t done much with these ideas. The Eastern approach continued to seem wondrous, abstract, and beyond reach.
That was until bedtime about eighteen months ago.
My daughter could have been the subject of the book Go The F*uck To Sleep. When my wife and I first read it (and then heard it narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) we nearly collapsed in hysterical laughter. It was actually laughter masking pain, as our daughter found new and inventive ways of eluding slumber on a nightly basis. She typically defeated or neutralized all of our attempts to get her to sleep.
No matter what the approach—patience, game playing, misdirection, or good cop/bad cop—she managed to win by going to bed on her own time frame. Normally this was not a huge issue and we adjusted what was happening. Sometimes, however, it felt like cruel and unusual punishment. We wanted a break or at least the ability to focus on something else.
Then came that one night.
My wife was out of town. I had loads of work to do. I was excited about the chance of sitting down, uninterrupted, for three hours. There was no limit to the amount of progress I could make. I was ready for “record-setting” productivity.
I went through the typical motions of getting my daughter ready for bed. Get dressed. Check. Brush teeth. Check. Brush hair. Check. Feed the fish. Check. Crawl into bed. Check. Read a favorite story. Check.
I was sailing through all of the customary steps and stages of the bedtime routine—and it all seemed to be working! She was even yawning. But it wouldn’t be that easy. It couldn’t.
I had one foot off the bed and on the floor. I was starting to reach over to the bedside lamp, when my daughter said, “Daddy, can you snuggle with me for a little bit.” I could literally feel the anger coursing through my veins. I started the teeth gritting that usually presaged some type of intense reaction, such as yelling or storming out of the room.
But then, for some reason that’s still unclear to me, I sat back, took an unusually deep breath, and exhaled. My heart slowed, my anger receded, and my attitude shifted away from my short-term needs and onto the love of my life next to me.
I just lay there with her. I didn’t say anything. I let go of everything except for what I was experiencing with her in the moment.
Then, as if on cue with the poignancy of the moment, my daughter to sat up, kissed my left cheek, and said, “I love you, Daddy.”
That was it. That was the spark. I had an experience unlike anything I had ever had gone through before.
Linear time stopped. I felt that everything that had ever happened or ever might happen was compressed into that moment. My body was lapped by waves of joy and euphoria. My entire essence (the only way I can describe it) knew that my daughter and I were connected by something larger than family or legal status, that we would always have each other, that even if I died an hour later we would always be together.
I started crying at the enormity of the experience.
My daughter showed concern at my tears. She asked if everything was okay. I said that it was much more than okay; I said that it was perfect. This, of course, made no sense to her, so she just snuggled a bit closer.
I didn’t want it to end, but it did, about five minutes later, at which point I was ready to levitate or bend spoons. My daughter actually told me that she was ready for bed and that I could go out and do my work, which I had completely forgotten about because of what happened.
I left her room and went to find my journal.
This experience shook me on a number of levels. The first was clearly strategy. All of my previous approaches to forcing her to sleep were coercive and self-serving. I wanted her to do something right now and for my reasons. Allowing her to be part of the process made a lot of difference. She knew what she needed to close down her day. I rarely noticed or asked. She wanted and needed genuine connection. Once she got it she went to sleep.
The second learning was about priority. Staying up another thirty minutes, on any given night, is not a big deal in the big picture of life. I often get hyper-focused on what I want when I want it, sometimes at the expense of important relationships in my life. I don’t want to regret my priorities years down the road. Our relationship is precious and I want to treat it as such.
And finally, I experienced what I believe the experts call satori. I experienced an awakening, a taste, of enlightenment. I walked into the waiting room of the enlightenment office, and it felt good. I finally felt what authors in countless books I read were describing. I felt bigger than my body, wiser than my mind, and more connected than my Facebook account. I had temporarily basked in the glow of nondual awareness.
And whom I do have to thank for this experience? I have to thank the sweetest, cutest, and cleverest little girl in my life. She has and will continue to teach me more than any textbook, certification course, or management guru.
I love you, honey, and I don’t ever want to stop appreciating you.
In gratitude, Daddy.
Photo credit: Kerem Tapani Gültekin/flickr