Back when I was in college, I took a poetry course. The professor asked that we write a poem about something we saw that was exhilarating, something that lifted our spirits and made us feel glad to be alive. We then read our poems and discussed the feeling that we were trying to express in our work.
I remember one student who spoke about how exhilarating and refreshing a red sunset felt at the end of a hot July day. Another spoke about the beautiful flowers that were budding on the rosebush outside the dean’s office, and how they filled her with feelings of joy because they reminded her of her playful childhood days at her grandmother’s house. I wrote about the elegant swans that were at the campus pond, and how easy they made gliding through the water seem. It reminded me of moments when life flowed that easily to me.
At the time of the course, I was working as a dishwasher at the College Commons, the biggest eatery on campus. I’d become friends with Eileen, the Common’s manager, and we’d often chat at the end of my shift. She’d taken a liking to me and enjoyed asking me about what I was learning in my classes. I told her about my poetry class, and asked her. “If you were to write a poem about something that exhilarates you, what would you write about?”
What she said floored me. “Exhilarating? Umm, I think anything that’s practical and helps us live better lives is exhilarating. She then looked around the cafeteria and said, “I’d write a poem about the beauty of a cafeteria dishwasher, because it makes it easier to guarantee sanitary dishes. That makes life healthier for students, which makes their lives better.”
I just looked at Eileen. I didn’t know what to say. She certainly didn’t respond as I’d expected, especially since she had a beautiful pot of yellow tulips on her desk. She then went on to say, “Think about the idea for a moment, Bob. No matter how strange it may seem at first, whatever is invented that improves our lives is exhilarating, isn’t it?” I told her I’d never thought about it that way, and by then it was time to leave so we wrapped up and said our evening goodbyes.
Eileen was an unassuming, ordinary guru who offered me an insight that took years for me to assimilate into my daily practice. It wasn’t until I got into the real estate development business that I recognized the significance of what she was saying. “Yes, Eileen, that which is practical and gives advantage to humankind is indeed exhilarating.” I believe one of the reasons that I’ve found my real estate development career so delightful is because I began associating inspiration and exhilaration with practical, down to earth matters in life – like a perfectly designed kitchen with the finest, stainless steel appliances. Now there’s a thing of beauty that’s not only practical, but downright exhilarating to behold!
Be sure to check out my latest feature in the Huffington Post: