The School Near the Philly Zoo

I believe in the power of gratitude. But it sure would’ve been nice if it hadn’t required 50 years or so to figure that out.

I look for moments each day to tap into that state of mind, that feeling of being blessed for having shoes on my feet, shelter over my head, food to eat, and a cozy bed.

“Look! I just rhymed! Yay Me!!”

— Me

Several times a week, I journal. Possibly, it’s my most valued material possession (And even at that, I’ve reframed my thoughts to accept that if I lose it, not a big deal. It’s a material thing, after all, not the things in life that are truly important, like the loved ones around you. This same attitude helped me process the loss of my Jeep when it was totaled by a drink driver. I really liked that thing, so it took me a day to get to that mindset. But I did. And pretty darn quickly. I’m actually kinda proud of myself for how rapidly I pulled myself out of self-pity. Feeling sorry for yourself is a shitty place to be, so I’m proud of you for how you handled the Jeep thingy, Markie.👊😘.).

Anyway, back to my journal. Sprinkled throughout my journal are reminders, in one form or another, of how lucky I am. I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but I need constant mental reinforcement, else the insecurities and “why me’s” start to gain a foothold. And when they do, curling up in the fetal position isn’t too far behind.

Am I being dramatic? Perhaps a little, if we’re referring to the here and now. But five years prior? And every year before that? Not really. I used to be a boss at mentally curling up in the fetal position (sometimes actually curling up in the fetal position, as well😘👊).

So my gift to you, Dear Reader, is an exploration of my journal. Exciting stuff!

🖕🖕🖕🖕🖕(Not you, Dear Reader. The middle finger goes to my Bitmoji for being a Dick. But, if you feel the same about my post topic, Dear Reader, 🖕you, too!😘)

The balance of this post, save a few ramblings here and there, will be dedicated to the structure of my journal, in the hopes that maybe you’ll take away a few tidbits of information to incorporate into your own life. And that doing so might help—just a little—to soothe those times in life that when it’s easy to succumb to despondence and despair. We know those times will come, don’t we? Life is a series of ups and downs; how we handle the extremes define our character. And for that matter, it’s not just the highs and lows. How we handle the lulls in activity, where the boredom of life’s routine steal the smile from our face? How we face that struggle will also determine your disposition, and the quality of your life.

“Journaling can help. Trust me on that, Dear Reader.”

— Me

So here it is:

If it looks familiar, it is. It’s the photo from my blog’s Home Page. Isn’t it lovely, Dear Reader?

Objectively, you can clearly see the aesthetic beauty of the outside. How about what’s between the covers? Buckle up, ‘cause here we go!

The Index. A Table of Contents, really. Looking closer at the elements, you’ll begin to see how big a role gratitude plays.

First, fittingly, is the Gratitude Log. Simply, it details everything I’m grateful for. The people in my life, the experiences, and everyday things. I have soooo much to be grateful for, truly. Don’t you?

There’s also the Happiness Log. Here, I jot down instances of daily joy. From simple lunches with my daughters, to vacationing in Europe, and everything in between. These pages serve two purposes: first, they allow me to clearly remember those instances, where otherwise the passage of time would tend to erase them from our minds; and second, when I do scan those entries, it never fails to put a smile on my face.😊

Next is 20 Good Things About Me. Pretty straightforward, it lists qualities about myself that I admire. The entry was created at the behest of my therapist and when I started, the shit was g to come up with. I struggled with finding five or six traits that I liked about yours truly. That, in itself, is an indicator of how far I’ve come, climbing the ladder of happiness. Now the list is considerably longer than twenty. And each time I discover something new to add, it fills my soul with warmth.

Jumping ahead a bit…

…there’s Perspective pages. Jotted down here are times where I recognize the struggles and pain I see around me. People dying in their sleep at a far-too-young age. Medical ailments. Economic strife. Seeing those things? It would be impossible to not appreciate how unbelievably blessed I am.

And sitting in the middle of the first Perspective page is Item 8: School near Philly zoo. The very thing this post was named after. Neat, huh?😊 🤔

Well I think it’s neat. Let me explain what this particular entry means. When this was added to my journal, my middle daughter was struggled with a medical condition that was undiagnosed and therefore, difficult to battle. Fast forward ten years later and she’s still facing serious challenges with require her to be on a feeding tube. Without it, she couldn’t survive.

So when we went to the zoo that day, our minds were swirling with concern and doubts. Doubts about whether our daughter would still be living much longer. And then, we drove by this:

Not the actual building we drove by, but similar enough. Photo courtesy of

Passing by, I wasn’t even sure what the building was. Curious, I did some research. Not only was I shocked to learn it was a fully functioning school, but when I read the metrics detailing rampant crime and piss-poor “education,” I was utterly appalled. How the fuck, in the “greatest country on earth,” do we let this happen?

In the blocks surrounding the school, blatant and unabashed drug dealing was evident. Extreme poverty was the norm. It was a very sketchy neighborhood, to be sure. Again, how the fuck, in the “greatest country on earth,” do we let this happen? As an American—as a human—I was embarrassed and I felt a certain sadness for those in that environment. How does anyone living under those conditions pull themselves out? The jobs were non-existent, and even if they were, racism is a persistent impediment. Selling drugs seemed like the only means of survival. And the cycle would continue, likely for generations to come.

Then, my thoughts turned to my own situation. While the school we passed was objectively shitty, my children were fortunate to attend a school routinely considered in the top two or three in the state. We weren’t financially well-off, like the vast majority in our school district. But our modest ranch house, plopped amongst million dollar mansions, allowed our kids to attend a kick-ass school. And as a result, their futures would undoubtedly benefit.

What if, I thought, we lived in that neighborhood? What would our chances be? What horrors would we face? Our collective life expectancy would be reduced, perhaps by a decade or more. Acknowledging that, my heart turned to gratitude for everything that we had: our privilege; our jobs; our home; our health, even the health of my not-insignificantly challenged daughter.

I remember having a discussion with a coworker. The CliffsNotes version of the conversation went something like this:

  • Coworker: “How do you manage to stay so positive, considering your daughter’s health?”
  • Me: “Look at this school. Look at these numbers. Imagine living there. How difficult would life be? And where we live now? I’m one lucky mo’ fo’.”

I’m not patting myself on the back. I’m not looking for praise about how strong and resilient I am. I’m not (I’m not looking for an ego boost, nor do I actually consider myself any strong than the average Joe.). There have been many times where I given in to self-pity and depression. And I’m sure there will be more than a few times in the future where I do the same. It’s just in this case, I did not. And gratitude was the answer.

I think you get the gist of my journal, Dear Reader. You’re smart. You’ve got this. And for the most part, the pages are somewhat self explanatory. If they’re not, please drop me a question in the Comments below.

Rambling aside: Currently, the room I’m in is damp and chilly, smelling of acrid farts, weed, and other olfactory offenses. But I’m lucky, because I’m snuggling with my daughter.

Me and my daughter, just chillaxing’. Green migraine-reducing light included.

The journal itself is based on the bullet journal concept. It’s part diary and planner, and it’s a forum to record thoughts. It’s flexible; it’s my own. It’s ever-changing, based on my life and my needs. In short, you can make it whatever the fuck you want. I encourage you, Dear Reader, to make it whatever the fuck you want. We’re all unique; no need to be bound by arbitrary structures that don’t serve. The one “rule” I would strongly enforce with your journal is a healthy dose of opportunities for gratitude.

Look, my journal might not be your bag. If not, I utilize other methods to be present, to be in the moment. Try yoga, meditation, exercise, or walking. Or in my case, a combination of them all. Whatever you choose, the benefits associated with being truly present are profound and life-altering. Better sleep and focus. The ability to savor and appreciate life. Better listening skills, less stress, fewer mistakes, and more self-esteem and self-awareness. You can absorb more knowledge, you’re not paralyzed by fear, and there’s this beautiful acceptance of uncertainty. You’ll have less regrets and more memories to cherish. The benefits, although not quite limitless, are certainly bountiful.

“Don’t know what a bullet journal is? I just described it, dude. WTF?😒 Need more info? Look it up. Ever hear of Wikipedia? Or Google?”

— Me

That’s all folks. Give it a whirl. Give any mindfulness/live-in-the-moment tool a whirl. Give gratitude more than a whirl: give it your undivided attention. Choose to recognize—completely recognize—how lucky you are. Just look around and open your eyes to the wonder, to the blessings bestowed upon you.

“Be better.”

— Me, smiling and looking in the mirror, affirming my daily mantra, followed by giving myself a high five. A great way to start the day. And it’s not a comparison to others. It’s a personal challenge, to be a better version of myself, compared to yesterday.

One response to “The School Near the Philly Zoo”

  1. Farts?!?

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