Back when I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for people to collect aluminum cans to recycle to earn extra money. You’d see people on the roadside with large garbage bags picking up cans that others had discarded as trash. Sometimes you’d see stacks of bags filled with cans. I’d wonder how long it had taken them to collect that many cans and how much other junk they had to wade through as they searched for them. To many passersby, those dirty stacks of cans were worthless, but to those working hard to collect them, they had value.
Cans still have value today, but I don’t mean aluminum cans. I mean the cans that you tell yourself that keep you moving forward in life and trying to make it better every day. Cans such as “I can make time for exercise, I can stop eating so much sugar, I can be nicer to my spouse, I can forgive myself for past mistakes, I can learn something new, I can ask for the raise I deserve, I can …….you fill in the blank. There are many things you and I can do.
The other “cans” I want to mention are those which we take for granted such as “I can see, I can hear, I can read, I can walk.” I have a story about the last one, “I can walk.” A few summers ago, we were staying at a condo in Myrtle Beach, SC. We happened to be on the 7th floor. As a personal trainer, I try to practice what I preach, so I would encourage my family to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Of course, at first there were many groans and complaints until I explained to them that my desire for taking the stairs went deeper than just getting physical exercise.
Walking up seven flights of stairs was also an exercise in gratitude for me. When a family member asked me why I always insisted we take the stairs, I said, “Because we can. There are many people who would love to be able to take the stairs, but they are too sick or disabled and can’t. We can, so we should.” Yes, it was physical exercise, but it also meant a great deal to me that I had the ability to climb seven flights of stairs. I never want to take my health for granted, so as long as I can take the stairs, I will.
I don’t want to take anything for granted. Like those collectors I saw on the roadside when I was a kid, I want to stack up all the cans I can find. Just as they had to wade through some undesirable things to find what they were looking for, I too will have to overcome undesirable things such as pain, disappointments, discouragement, and naysayers to find and appreciate the valuable things in my life. I can do more today than I did yesterday. I can choose to look for the good even in hard situations. I can always try a little harder to be a little better. What about you? What can you do?
I hope this letter inspires you today to focus on the cans in your life and let them give you strength and courage. I hope you will take a moment to express gratitude for your cans. I promise the more cans you collect, the more joy and value you will find in your life.
I’ll leave you with a goofy family story about cans. I was a cheerleader as a teenager, and as many of you know, some of those cheers get stuck in your head forever. When I was a young mother and one of my children exclaimed, “I can’t do it,” the cheerleader in me came to life. I made up a family cheer to the rhythm of one of the cheers I did back in the 80’s – “You’re a Clark, you’re a Clark, you CAN!” I would say it over and over and have them say it with me. We did that cheer often as my kids were growing up to encourage them and let them know we believed they could conquer anything. Last Christmas, one of my daughters gave me a pillow with pictures of all my children printed on it with our family cheer in the middle. Just as I encouraged, and continue to encourage my children that they can, I also want to encourage you that you CAN!
“You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”. Jimmy Carter