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Best things on sea of life still free

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By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 10:55 p.m.

The late Zen Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki is quoted as having said: “Life is like stepping onto a boat which is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

At first blush, that may seem a harsh reminder, but it certainly makes the point that we had better start paying attention to all the good things on the journey before the boat starts taking on water.

Instead of simply paying attention, it seems we are more prone to look for excitement to spice up life, we want more highs than lows. If we aren't careful, that approach can give us an emotional hangover, make us addicted to those highs and to their potential disappointments.

There is an alternative to the roller-coaster ride.

As the song lyric would have us know: “The best things in life are free.” But, before you turn cynical on me, consider these recent free things I found:

• On a recent ride home at night, I crested a hill on a two-lane road, and there — in the middle of the lane — were three deer enjoying a spring outing. Seeing no other traffic, I slowed and eased the car by; it was a good encounter for all. Even the deer seemed content with the brief glimpse of one another. On that same trip, a possum made his way across my path with neither of us seeming too ruffled by the incident.

• On a morning drive from my house, I saw a woman wheeling her garbage can to the curb. How mundane is that? — but how marvelous in its routine. A bright, slowly warming morning, someone was doing the most simple of activities without thought, but when you think about it, there's magic in a simple task.

• Outside my living-room window, across the highway, there is a stand of trees and bushes on a hillside. Amid those trees is one that is dead. Its limbs, however, reach high toward the sky and are white, much like bones. The limbs are works of art, made more beautiful by the trees around them and especially against a blue sky. Life's contrasts are beautiful.

• This time of year, birds waking me with their singing, and others coloring the view as they flit about the feeder and the ground beneath it, are simple encouragements to live life. Study a few birds today; it is at least as fascinating as sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in, and less expensive for those of us in Western Pennsylvania.

• A toddler, walking down a street or through a mall, holding the hand of either Mom or Dad and carrying on a serious conversation is a brilliant sight; I know as I just saw it. The child was doing a better impersonation of a rational adult than any adults could pull off. We should watch and learn.

• Store clerks who are in good humor — even if it is feigned at first (I have no way of knowing) — make me smile, and the smile is genuine. And, I think, it makes them smile, and that most certainly is sincere. I always hope it gets passed on to the next customer at the counter.

These are what we call “everyday” things, and similar observations can be made routinely. Feel free to share some with me (the email address is below).

If you are grumpy, anxious, fearful, sad — or otherwise out of sorts — you might not be able to make the mundane side of life prompt any joy. Your reactionary mind will stand in the way.

But it is, I think, worth the effort to look for these good, free things whenever we can. Especially in a world that encourages us to paddle our boats faster and faster — and you know where that gets us.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via email to

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