I lived the first twenty-one years of my life in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution, and the home of the famed Liberty Bell. And after I ventured out into the world and met more people from other places, I finally realized just how interesting the place of my birth was. The history packed into the place could fill several books, and yet it was something I took for granted being able to walk into Independence Hall anytime I wanted, or passing by Betsy Ross’s house on my way to South Street on Thursday evenings in July. Moving away, though, gave me a perspective I never would have had otherwise.
When I won a trip for a week at Disney World, to stay on the park property, I was ecstatic. I was going to the most magical place on earth, to spend a week with several other groups of kids from all over the U.S., and it was going to be amazing. Among the group of kids who all congregated there for the week were teenagers from California, from Texas, and from Atlanta. There was also a group from Orlando, and I was so excited to meet them. I mean, they lived right down the block from a place I would kill to live near, and I wanted to know how amazing that was for them. But when I asked the question, one of the girls laughed at me and said, “People who live next to Disney hardly ever go there.” She explained that it didn’t mean the park wasn’t amazing. What it meant was that you can get used to anything. You can take anything for granted.
I think Shania Twain is one of the most aesthetically beautiful women on the face of this earth, and she’s definitely on my “list,” so when I found out she had married what I would consider one of the plainest men around, I was understandably devastated. It must be true love, I figured, and I counted her husband as one of the luckiest men alive. Then, several years later, the scandal hit that he had cheated on her and was leaving her for another woman. Shania Twain! How could anyone leave a woman as perfect as I imagined Shania Twain to be? How dumb would someone have to be to accomplish something so ludicrous? But then I thought about it, and no matter how beautiful Shania Twain is, or no matter how perfect she might actually be in real life, she’s Disney. He took her for granted, being so near for so long.
And don’t we all do that to an extent? Don’t we all at some point in our lives take things and people for granted? Until we’re gone, until we’re away from it and from them, and then we realize how much they should have meant to us.
I met my wife online, far from any kind of physical place, but when she found out I was from Philadelphia the first thing she wanted to know was had I been to Independence Hall or seen the Liberty Bell. I laughed, not because it was funny, but because it was such an understood thing when you grow up where I grew up. We would go on field trips every year, so much so that I knew everything there was to know about all of those landmarks, and then some. But I hadn’t been in ages, because they were right there. So who cared anymore? Well, it turns out that she did. So the year after we met I took her there for the first time, and seeing it all through her eyes was revelatory. History was alive again for me, and I knew I should have never taken it for granted.
But just knowing that isn’t enough. I had to live it too, and I wasn’t very good at doing that. You see, after being married for five years I began to do the same thing to the one person who loved me more than life itself, my precious wife. I began to take her for granted, not treasuring or appreciating all that she does for me and for our family. And I didn’t mean to, either, but that was no excuse. I’ve always called myself such a sentimental person, remembering anniversaries, and other dates of note, throughout the years, but it takes more than just thinking of dates every once in a while. It takes true appreciation. It takes thought and work and commitment to keeping the lines of communication open and thriving. And I had abandoned that. I had been living right next to Disney and never going for a ride on the Matterhorn, or going through the Small World ride, or even taking a picture with Goofy.
That’s when I woke up, when it was nearly too late and I had been sleeping too long. That’s when I went back home and realized I never should have left. And the most amazing thing about it is that now every single day I have my eyes open. I know where I am. I appreciate how amazing my life is, how amazing the woman that I married is, and I never want to close my eyes again. Each day is precious, and I’m not taking another one for granted ever again.