One evening I was driving down the highway, my mind busy with its usual jumble of thoughts and concerns, when I came over the top of a hill and suddenly realized that I was driving straight into a spectacular sunset. It was just gorgeous, complete with a fiery red sun that radiated streaks of color across the sky as it dipped slowly into the horizon. I remember being surprised, because I have always associated beautiful sunsets with beach vacations, where the highlight of my day is often standing on a beach and watching the sun sink into the ocean. I couldn’t quite remember the last time I’d noticed a sunset in my hometown of St. Louis, since my house sits too low to see either sunsets or sunrises. And yet there it was: a sunset just as spectacular as anything I’ve ever witnessed on a beach vacation, even without the ocean.
Simply put, the sunset surprised me because I wasn’t looking for it. When I drive on the local highways, I’m watching for bad drivers, traffic jams and the upcoming exit I need. I may even be keeping an eye out for an interesting billboard. But I am most definitely not expecting to see a sunset….even though the sun does set in St. Louis every night, just as it does all over the world.
I believe that all too often, we tend to see just exactly what we are looking for, no more and no less. Which means that if we are looking for signs that the world is a horrible place and becoming worse by the moment, we will see them. If we are looking for rejection in our relationships, contempt from people who are different from us, and incompetence from coworkers, we will see it. Because sometimes those things are there. But if we look for acts of kindness and compassion, for creative solutions to long-term problems, for areas where the world around us is actually improving, we will see those things as well. Because the good things are also there, but we have to be willing to see them.
I spend my days volunteering at an open-admission animal shelter which rescues unwanted, neglected and abused animals on a daily basis. Sometimes I see and hear things that make me doubt in the basic goodness of the human race. But if I choose to look for it, I also see things that warm my heart: people who take the time to bring in the stray and lost dogs they see wandering the streets, people who donate supplies and give so freely of their time and money, or a once-neglected dog prancing happily out the door with his new adoptive family. Usually, the mood I am in when I go home from the shelter depends entirely upon what I choose to focus on when I’m down there.
Just like my surprise urban sunset, there is beauty to be found in almost any situation, even during those times when it is least expected. And I hope that I always remember to just look for it……