One summer, when I was working at the top of the Arctic Archipelago in an eight-person settlement known as Eureka, an iceberg ran aground in the strait between Ellesmere and Axel-Heiberg Islands. I enjoyed the novelty of having a mountain of ice parked outside my window, but I must admit it soon became just another part of the scenery. The same thing happened with the wolves who hunted us every time we left the confines of our buildings, and with the rabbits who achieved such tremendous speeds when racing our enclosed snow cruiser that they were able to bound along upright, front legs never touching the ground. Such strange and beautiful sights become mundane when they occur too often.
Then came a cold January day when our cook, an axe in one hand and a cardboard box in the other, asked me to go out to the berg and get him some ice. I already thought he was an eccentric, so I bit my tongue and went for a stroll.
“Make sure you get ice from the centre of the face,” he hollered to me as I trudged out into the – 40°C air.
I did what he asked. Even though the face of the berg was in shadow, and the air that pooled there seemed to be inordinately cold, and I was convinced the 30-foot wall of ice was poised to fall on my head.
When I got back, Cookie thanked me, indicated that I should put the box in the walk-in freezer, then went on preparing dinner. No big deal. No explanations given.
Later that evening, a few of us gathered in the common room to watch a canned hockey game which had been flown in from Winnipeg. This was before the advent of satellite TV, so it was something of an event for us. Cookie came in and surprised me with one of my favourite drinks—good Canadian rye, a small amount of ginger ale and lots of ice. In fact, the tumbler was filled with so much chipped ice that rivulets of condensation had begun to run down its sides. The odd little fellow chuckled, winked at me and said, “There’s something about million-year-old ice that just makes a drink taste better.” He was right.
Many years have passed since that memorable day. Cookie’s most likely in his grave. I’ve begun to feel the sear of age myself. But every now and then, when I have a spare moment, I think about ancient ice in my drink, and the company of wolves, and I smile.
Life has helped me to understand that whether it’s a certain piece of art catching the morning light in a way that delights, or a walk along a leaf-strewn country road, or icebergs that run aground outside your bedroom window, the trick to having an interesting life that’s filled with beauty, is to make these things your centre of activity or interest. You must make them your focus. Because of this, I do my utter best to spend my days purposely drinking the juice of life. Yet the iceberg story is proof that beauty can also be found in memories and that it’s important to make time for revisiting them.
You can take this idea a step further by accepting those ugly, disheartening events that life seems to present with unnerving regularity. Accept them, but don’t let them affect you. Understand that they’ll eventually pass, and that you’ve the choice to refocus on better things. There’s also no rule that says you ever have to think about them again. You choose what you remember and how you remember.
A death can become a reason to celebrate someone’s life. A lost job is an opportunity to try the career you’ve always dreamt of. A failed romance has the potential to teach you about man’s incredible capacity for love. And a struggle with disease can renew your zest for life. You have the power to recall and reshape your experiences so that they work for you.
This is a simple concept with the power to transform our lives, but it’s worthless unless applied. I challenge you to spend today on the conscious enjoyment of beauty, allowing all else to be diminished or ignored. Choose to build beautiful memories while forgetting everything else. The exercise represents an important step in creating a truly enjoyable life. It can also help you to understand that focus is everything.