We Southern Californians have a special relationship with summer. I know, I know, you’re probably saying that it’s always summer in SoCal. Admittedly, the year-round mild temperatures are one of the many benefits of the area. Being able to drive your convertible with the top down in February has its perks. There are things that happen in the summer that only happen in the summer. Outdoor concerts on the beach, summer cookouts, oh, and the Greek Festival – love the Greek festival! And there’s the food. Summer fruits are so refreshing, and the varieties are unmatched by any other season. And then there is the star of summer fruits: Watermelon! It is the most perfect food ever. Sweet, juicy, satisfying. And did you know that it comes in many colors? I’m talking about the inside. There’s orange, green and yellow. The yellow meat watermelon is incredible.

I make it my business to eat an insane amount of watermelon every summer. Gotta get while the gettin’s good, you know? I even have a ‘watermelon guy.’ And when I can’t get to him the local Trader Joe’s has a great supply.

It was a typical Tuesday during the first week of October. I’d dropped Mom off at physical therapy and headed up the hill to get my fix. Trader Joe’s was closest, and I only had 45 minutes before I needed to be back to pick up Her Majesty after her session. Found parking – score! I rounded the corner, grabbed a cart without breaking my stride, and headed straight for the front of the store because the best selection of watermelons was in the outside bins.

I’m sure that I screamed out loud. So, another cool thing about we SoCal folk – particularly the beach- dwellers – is that we are very spiritual. That’s why there are so many yoga studios and mindfulness centers around. Which is why when I screamed, it garnered no one’s attention. It was probably assumed that I was aligning or clearing a chakra or harmonizing with the surf. It was a scream of pain and shock. Now, I was seriously hurt. Should I have been shocked? Nope. It happens every year about this time. I just lose track every year that it’s this time. Every year, about this time, someone replaces the watermelons in the watermelon bin with…pumpkins. PUMPKINS! Argh!!!

I had never been able to actually see the switch when it happens. It’s likely done under the cloak of darkness and no wonder. That brave soul who makes the switch has to be considered enemy number 1. At least they are in my book. And what happens with the watermelons that were in the bin? It’s not like they all spontaneously sold at once. Couldn’t they at least put what remained on a table or in a corner so as to transition us gently? No. It’s just a hard swing to pumpkin season. And I don’t like pumpkin –ANYTHING!

Fifteen minutes had passed, and I had to find a watermelon. I was going to really stock up this time because the alert had been raised. I ran to the car, yes ran, and drove straight across the parking lot to another grocery store. No luck. The pumpkin placers had hit there, too. Now there was a decision to be made. I could get to my watermelon guy, but it would make me a tad bit late picking up Her Highness. You know what I did, right? I mean it’s not like she was going to be waiting in the rain or anything. It’s California. And the pacing back and forth in the parking lot would be good exercise.

When I arrived to get the Queen, she was her usual jovial self. She didn’t even seem to notice that I was a couple of minutes late. Her great workout session had left her all smiles. Until I gave her the news. You see, this watermelon thing is inherited. She loves them, too! We devised a plan to hit every grocery store and fruit stand within a 25-mile radius. If only we could just get ahead of the melon switchers.

Boy, the marketing the pumpkin industry must do, because those doggone pumpkins had blanketed the entire town. Three weeks later as I drug myself hopelessly over to the bin I thought, “This is it. You can’t go any further.” I was literally at the US/Mexico border. We lived in San Diego. Did I mention that?

Okay, so I was standing in front of the dreaded bin, fighting back tears. By now I had been inundated with all the pumpkin stuff – lattes, muffins, cereal, pasta, candles. And tortilla chips? Come on!

I heard a voice, my voice. It said, “Perspective is everything. It’s all about how you look at the situation. You have to welcome the challenge as an opportunity for growth.” Blah, blah, blah. Really? It all sounds good when I am helping a coaching client navigate a roadblock. Let’s be clear though, this was a real issue. I mean, my needs aside, Her Grace was now relegated to eating apples and pears for the next 7 months. So, what could I do?

Aha, my old standby, gratitude. I had to find a way to be thankful that my watermelons had been snatched away. And that’s how the tradition started.

Every year, I head out on November 1st, looking for the perfect pumpkin. That pumpkin is the foundation of my daily gratitude ritual where I write a statement of thanks. My ritual continues through Thanksgiving Day. And on that day, I fill any open spaces that are left. Most days I am brought to tears as I write. There are so many blessings in my life. And even the challenges offer a chance to stand a bit taller, stretch a bit further and take a leap of faith.

It certainly helped last pumpkin season when I was struggling with being alone. I remembered that last year with my mom when we spent three awesome weeks on a daily mission. I am so grateful that we shared time laughing, singing and exploring. Secretly, I think we both knew that our quest was not going to produce a single watermelon. We didn’t know that it would be one of the many “lasts” that I now recount. I am so truly grateful that we had that adventure and that I shared it with the woman who is, and will always be, Royalty to me.

It seems to me that authentic gratitude is often preceded by profound loss. Is it that we can’t be thankful for something or someone until there is an absence? I wonder if this is by design or development. Is it possible that we have somehow become a society with the expectation of unwarranted gratification and entitlement? My hope is that we meet life with a true sense of wonder and amazement seeing the true blessings of what surrounds us. That as we face hardships and happy times, we remember that gratitude is a mindset. And mindset is a choice.

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Valari Jackson
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