A dear friend of mine tells the story of a time when, as crew on a sailing catamaran, they visited a small coastal village somewhere in Central America.
There was nothing to differentiate this village from any of the other countless villages that dot the coast. The village was not close to any of the tourist areas, and the big, fancy hotels were a lifetime away from this tiny place.
There were no factories or industries here, and probably few jobs. No roads came to the town and so there were no cars or motorcycles or buses to connect them with the outside world.
The people in this village lived their lives, as most on the coast do, through a bit of subsistence farming and what fish they can draw from an increasingly over-fished Caribbean. They forage in the dense jungle surrounding them for fruits and native plants to cook over their open fire stoves, often mixed with wild spices and coconut milk for flavor and richness.
The houses were built on stilts to keep the tides and waves at bay, at least most of the time. What little trash they produced, mostly organic food waste, was just thrown off of their platform to let the tides and the sea take care of it. At high tide the water swirled around the stilts, taking away the rubbish and bringing in whatever the sea sent that day, which too often was the plastic garbage we all-to-casually throw away.
Looking at all of that, including the waste beneath the houses, you might think this was a pretty dreary and depressing place, but that’s not what my friend saw. After that first impression, what she saw, as she tells the story, was a young girl of four or five years wearing the most beatific smile imaginable. She was walking through the mud and she carried a single ripe green coconut on her head. The little girl was so happy to have found this perfect coconut and to be able to take it home to help her mama with dinner, and her smile lit up the entire scene. When my friend saw that, her whole perspective changed.
Seeing that little girl’s smile changed everything. No longer was this a sad village cut off from the world. It was instead a place of beauty and love, where the simplest of pleasures were more than enough to brighten the people’s day. She now saw a simple grace and peace in the people as they went about their work and life, living at peace with each other and the beautiful natural world around them. One green coconut and one girl’s smile changed everything.
But you had to be able to “see” it. You had to turn your attention away from the rubbish and see instead the beauty.
That’s a choice we get to make each and every day. Too often we look around us and see only the rubbish, the detritus left as the world decomposes, or so we think. We listen to or read endless stories of death or destruction or hate and think the whole world is that way. Our social media feeds are too often carriers of insults, rejection, and degradation. It all looks pretty sh*tty because that is what we’ve been shown and become accustomed to seeing.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you pause for a moment and take control of what you see and hear, you will begin to notice something new and wonderful. If you stop being a passive recipient of whatever waste is being served today and actively look, then you will find countless beautiful coconuts everywhere. You will be amazed!
Try this experiment. Go to a popular mall or shopping center or even street corner after listening to your “favorite” newscast and just look around. You might see people arguing, notice the frowns of frustration on people’s faces, listen to kids crying or misbehaving. There will be hordes of people rushing here and there with no discernible purpose. The normal sh*t we see every day. Sucks.
Now, close your eyes for just a moment and take a deep breath. Then open your eyes and look again. This time, see the coconuts. Notice the young couple with eyes of love only for each other and their hands linked as one, a parent laughing with their child over an ice cream cone or cookie, a young man opening a door for an older woman or helping her with her packages. See the smiles on so many faces and the small acts of community that happen every moment. Wow! It’s like when Dorothy woke up in Oz; the world suddenly goes from black-and-white to technicolor.
It was the same place, on the same day, with the same people all around. All that changed was how you saw it. How do you feel? Can you feel the smile creeping onto your face and how your shoulders relaxed? I’ll bet you can.
This works everywhere; it’s amazing. If you try just a teeny bit you will start to see coconuts everywhere and then the rest won’t matter.
After she told me the story, I began to look for coconuts in my day and it worked! Even on the days when life seemed the hardest and my heart felt the heaviest, all I had to do was just think the word “coconut” and the world changed. The colors came back, and so did my smile. Magic! What a gift she gave me that day.
Now imagine if everyone started seeing coconuts instead of garbage. What a world that might be, and how much better we all would be because of it. So please, do this one simple thing. Tell someone else the story of the girl with the coconut and the golden smile. Ask them to try the experiment. And then, when you see the smile come onto their face, give them a huge hug.