We are water – finding gratitude in fall colors and on long walks

Fall colors are in full display in Arlington and DC. Reds, yellows, oranges, and browns along with some greens, here and there, still holding on. As we enter the holiday season, I find myself traveling inward, reflecting on loved ones and past experiences, planning for the future, but trying, as much as possible, to stay present.

The weather dives into colder temperatures seemingly overnight, shocking people into digging out their winter coats. Walking to and from work, I catch other people’s eyes and we smile or shrug or laugh together at the cold. I missed those casual exchanges living in China where the language barrier and sheer volume of people often kept me from reaching out.

On Sunday, Armistice Day, my beautiful grandmother softly passes away in her home with family blanketing her in love. The news seeps into all the cracks. She is present in the sweet little birds flitting in and out of the trees as I take a long walk in the chilly air. She is in the contrast of the red autumn leaves brilliant against a blue sky. She looks out at me from photos that overnight have become even more precious. Grief comes in waves. Normalcy inserts itself for a short while until I am pulled back from that quiet shore into a deep well.


Recently, I have been reading “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings” by Thich Nhat Hanh, which has comforted me greatly. He writes, “When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, it also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, Some day, I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing. These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. We have to help it remove the notions of self, person, living being, and life span if we want the wave to be free and happy.”

I am trying to remember that we are all water. There is a greater truth beyond our control and understanding, within and around our lives and the lives of our loved ones. I grieve even as I know that she is always a part of me.

Long walks are good medicine. On Monday, I hop on the metro and get off at the Foggy Bottom stop. Right on 23rd street, it is a straight shot down to the Lincoln Memorial. Usually on long walks, I like to listen to music, the news, or a podcast. Today I just walk, the sounds of city slowly vanishing behind me as I near the Reflecting Pool.

It is a chilly day and although it is a public holiday for Veterans Day, there aren’t all that many people around. Spatterings of different languages move past me as I walk through groups of tourists and climb up the steps to look out towards the Washington Monument.

I continue over to the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, and along the Tidal Basin, red and gold trees arching overhead and framing different views.


Walking the National Mall and among the memorials is an exercise in shifting perspectives. The Washington Monument moves from dominating the view, to being reflected in peaceful waters, to peeking quietly out through tree branches.


I finally come to my favorite spot, the Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt Memorials. Each visit, FDR’s words etched into the stone resonate with me a little differently. Usually, his words would cause me to turn to political events and reflect on macro-level injustices, fears, actions, and resilience. That theme is still there today, but slightly muted. I feel more deeply the micro-impact of his words on my own life and let myself feel the ebb and flow of my own emotions.


I don’t spend long in any one spot, but at Eleanor Roosevelt’s statue, stop briefly to rest my hand on her cool, metal one. She is serene among the fall foliage.


Walking back, I stop by the World War I and II Memorials; one quietly somber, the other grandly patriotic; both impactful in their own ways.


And, of course, because no Nicola outing is complete without some good and tasty food, I walk up past the White House and stop at Teaism near Lafayette Square for a hearty bowl of udon soup, a warming chai tea, and a cookie. After being quietly with my own thoughts for a couple hours, the inside of the restaurant is jarringly loud, but I carve out a peaceful spot at a corner table and lose myself in my book for a bit.

It’s a testament to how my walk has relaxed and eased my mind that I completely forget to take a picture of the food.

I cycle through many different emotions at the moment, but the strongest, most present one is gratitude.

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