I wrote this post on Saturday but because of internet problems I haven’t been able to post it until tonight.

It’s my blankedy-blank birthday (more on that in a minute) so I’m celebrating by diverging from my usual format, and will share with you a few miscellaneous ideas and examples rather than focusing on one topic. So here I sit staring out on a floor-to-ceiling view of a downpour falling on the tarmac of Guatemala City’s airport, with an hour and a half to write this week’s post. A perfect time and place for reflection.

I’ve spent a few days in this country and am entranced both by its physical beauty and the kindness of its people, despite the abject poverty of so many. Children are everywhere, and it’s so enjoyable to watch them find joy in the things that poor kids do (kick around a ball, play games with little pieces of paper that they’ve cut out and drawn on, running, screaming, etc.). I compare that with the suite of playthings that many parents feel must accompany their children when they’re out with them. Not to mention the fact that kids in the U.S. spend much less time together with other children than do the kids here. As I’ve written before, technology is atomizing our children through Facebook, Twitter, and texting. Parents: try to find a balance that isn’t overweighted to the materialist or the technological.

Back to the blankedy-blank. Age is one of the most prominent labels we wear on the outside. How strongly will we let that outside label determine the inner contents? I engage actively in internal debate, wrestling with the idea that because I am the age that I am I should……name it: feel a certain way, dress a certain way, do or don’t do certain things. It takes work but I believe that the debate pays off in my developing a greater sense of contentment with where I am in my life. Whatever outer labels (whether due to age, weight, height, race, body type) you may be exhibiting, debate the ones that don’t feel good and allow yourself just to relax into the wonder that you are. The same for any inner labels, general (“I’m an introvert,” “I’m a procrastinator,” “I’m a pessimist”) or specific (“I don’t have a college degree,” “I don’t have a boyfriend,” “I should lose twenty pounds). You can come back to the self-judgment a little later, and appropriate action if/when called for. But getting in touch with the YOU who you really are underneath all of those labels can be a really cool thing.

Now some thoughts about gratitude, raised by an odd event that happened last week. My pharmacist called me to tell me that Blue Cross was refusing to pay for a prescription because my medical insurance coverage had been terminated. Despite the above advice on successfully dealing with age, I must confess that my upcoming birthday had started to wear down my defenses, and I was feeling some sadness about getting older. But when I called Blue Cross to investigate it turned out that I was able to reinstate my coverage (which had in fact been terminated). That happy outcome not only rescued me from what could have been a time-consuming and expensive search for a new insurance carrier, but wound up lifting the cloud I’d been under the previous week and actually resulted in my feeling great for the whole subsequent time. Better than I would have felt had I not experienced the fear of losing my health insurance. What worked its magic was gratitude. The possible loss of something taken for granted woke me up to the blessing of having it. It’s a gratitude that has stayed with me in my wanderings around Guatemala, providing me with an extra dose of appreciation for all of the stuff that I’m blessed with.

Practicing gratitude is a must because it’s so easy to take our lives for granted. Even the very poorest of us doesn’t have to worry about whether we’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Almost forty percent of the population here does. But it’s not just a matter of abstractly acknowledging that there are so many people worse off than you. That’s a cerebral notion that rarely sinks down into countering the feelings of unhappiness. Effective practice of gratitude consists of contemplating all of the wonderful things we have that we just don’t notice: electricity, pure water, safety on the street, technological marvels, rejoicing in the score of Facebook friends who took the time to wish you a “Happy Birthday!”

I wish you a wonderful, unlabeled week filled with gratitude.