Be Grateful: Every Day is a Gift

November 9, 2017

In my early teens, filled with typical life-angst (Who am I and what is all this stuff about?), I came upon a poem in an Ann Landers advice column titled “The Station,” by Robert Hastings. It offered a simple but powerful way of thinking and living that immediately appealed to me.

For the past forty years, I have tried to live by the maxim captured in the poem: happiness is a manner of traveling, not a destination. Every day is a gift, it said. Climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, laugh more, cry less, because “one of these days, may be none of these days.”

One might think this is a license for short-term thinking and behavior, but that misses the point. Life is a continuum. Today is what you’ve got, but it is the entree to tomorrow’s similarly unique day. They are separate and linked at the same time. Making the most of today need not come at the expense of tomorrow. Prudence coupled with a sense of adventure is the balance I’ve struck.

I realized early on, while delivering newspapers as a thirteen year-old, that whistling is a tool that helps me make the most of every day. Back then, it was primarily about making beautiful music happen rather than just thinking about it. Riding along on my Schwinn Stingray while whistling great classical pieces was an amazing experience. It was me and my lips communing with Beethoven or Mozart or Brahms. It helped make a mundane task enjoyable, and my days sweeter. I will always be grateful for that.

As I got older and better, though, I saw how I could use my simple gift to touch people’s hearts and lives through performance, competition, birthday serenades, and storytelling. To me, two of the most important things in life are people and experiences. Whistling has given me gobs of exposure to both. For that, I am also immensely grateful. Actually, I’m shocked and grateful. As I survey all the things I’ve done with my whistling, I’m amazed at how blessed I’ve been. I never could have imagined meeting the people I have or doing the things I’ve been able to do. Simply put, whistling has changed the course of my life.

When I was in the Oval Office whistling for President Bush, I said to myself several times, Remember every moment of this, because it’s the coolest and freakiest thing you will ever do…and it will never happen again. The same feeling consumed me when I was 555 feet in the air perched atop the Washington Monument, whistling “Yankee Doodle” in honor of our first president, and when I stood before China’s top banker, as my whistling launched him into an idyllic state. Even when people tell me I made their day with a birthday whistle, it’s a magical feeling to touch a heart with my lips. (It’s not as messy as it sounds!)

In trying to live the message of “The Station,” making the most of every day, I’ve developed a talent that first brought me great joy, then over time turned into a means to touch other people’s lives in simple ways, bringing delight and wonder to them. Their affirming reactions reinforce my behavior. It’s an awesome positive feedback loop. (That said, I still whistle for myself when I’m alone because it makes me happy; I’m just incredibly delighted that I can share it with other people.)

I often tell my kids that every day is a gift. At first, they had no idea what I meant. Now my regular admonishments are met with grunts and some eye0rolling. Someday, though, I hope they will embrace this simple truth: today is unique, and will never happen again–be grateful for it and make the most of it.

(Find this and other stories in my new book Find Your Whistle: Simple Gifts Touch Hearts & Change Lives.)