The Lesson of the Cup and Stick

This time last week, I was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, with nothing to worry about except whether to have wine or dessert after dinner. (I had both.) It was a “girlfriend” getaway, with 23 silly women (and 3 very brave men), planned to take us away from the stress and chaos of our busy lives and charge our spiritual batteries.

Cozumel, our first port of call, gave us a rainy welcome. Donning plastic ponchos, we hit the streets to see, smell, taste, and feel this island paradise. The rain ended soon after we arrived, and the sky turned a beautiful shade of blue that provided a magnificent background for our adventure.

Photo credit: Stacy Wheat, 2014

Photo credit: Stacy Wheat

As we walked the streets we talked about many things. The dichotomy of rich merchants hawking their wares and poor children on the street corner asking for money. The safety of the drinking water. Concerns about sanitation and health care. The beauty of the open water, and the threat it brings every hurricane season.

The lives of the people there seemed so different from our lives.

My mama’s words flashed through my mind. “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” I shared this thought with my friends. How lucky I felt that I was born where I was born. In a place where clean drinking water is taken for granted. Where I can drive to a doctor for medical treatment whenever I need it. That I have an education, a good job, a safe home. I did nothing to deserve these blessings. I was born into them.

Feeling grateful and lucky, we continued our walk along the beach, stopping for an occasional photo. A brown-skinned boy played in the sand. Young men swam in the crystal water. Modest boats were pulled onto the beach, the tools of their owners’ livelihood. My friend offered a different perspective.

“How happy do you think these people are, compared to us?”

Living a simpler life, at a slower pace. Developing deep relationships. Fewer stress-induced maladies, more time to enjoy the beauty in each day.

It was a humbling moment. I watched the boy in the sand, with a cup and a stick, playing contentedly. I thought about my children, and the complexities of their lives. How long would they be satisfied playing with a cup and a stick? I looked at the policeman on the corner. I wondered if his medicine cabinet had as many prescriptions in it as mine did. I wondered if the fishermen knew how well their daily catch nourished their bodies.

I didn’t set out that day to have this kind of existential moment on the beach. But it seems that’s what I do. We walked quietly for a while after that, taking in the last moments of our time there.

I brought back many things from this trip – woven bracelets, postcards, and a beautiful leather purse.

But the most important thing I brought back is a renewed sense of gratitude. I want to have the best of both worlds in my life. To live in this place with clean water and good health care, but to do so in a simpler, slower way. To enjoy the beauty in each day, and to live in the moment I am given. To hold my dear ones close. To be grateful for a cup and a stick and a beautiful view.


28 thoughts on “The Lesson of the Cup and Stick

  1. Heather Holbrook

    I too have been thinking lately about how blessed I am to be born here with all of the amenities you listed. It truly is humbling. Thanks for the reminder to be content and enjoy the things that mean the most – family, God’s creation!

  2. angelaweight

    What a lovely post. I’m jealous of your trip to Mexico. A friend of mine was telling me recently about how happy the local people they met on a mission trip to Uganda are with so little compared to us.

    1. Lisha Fink Post author

      Yes, it seems like a paradox, but those who have so little, and are surrounded by others in the same situation seem to be the happiest and most grateful. I believe that happiness and gratitude feed off of each other. I’m going to do my best not to let the trappings of my life get in the way of my perspective again.

  3. singleworkingmomswm

    So glad you had a wonderful trip and were able to bring home more than just a few tangible souvenirs and post cards. You live with your eyes and heart open, and that, too, is a blessing. 🙂 XOXO-Kasey

    1. Lisha Fink Post author

      Sometimes I don’t think they’re open as wide as they should be, Kasey. But I always seem to find something to remind me. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. DrInes (@RoeInes)

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. It really brings the reality of differing lives into focus. I grew up in Mexico and thus saw that life style from a child’s perspective. As an adult I returned and lived this time in Central America – El Salvador for a while. It was from an adult perspective that I took it in this time. It was not until I returned to the US that I really was able to reflect on the juxtaposition of lives and I have to confess I suffered from a touch of “culture shock” and reading your post reminded me of the beauty of both lives.

  5. angelfare01

    Lisha, you are such a talented writer and a beautiful soul. You have such a gentle way of reminding us about what is truly important. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us!

  6. CaptCruncher

    You brought home the most valuable souvenirs – a deeper understanding and slightly shifted perspective on what it means to be grateful and happy. Thank you for sharing these beautiful thoughts.

  7. Carolann

    I love that quote and say to myself all the time! It’s always a great moment when we can reflect on just how “lucky” we are. Thanks much for the post!

    1. Lisha Fink Post author

      Those words have the power to put any situation in perspective, no matter how dire it may seem. Thank you for stopping by, Carolann, and thank you for your kind words.

  8. jamie@southmainmuse

    What lovely thoughts. And the photo looks so peaceful. I think the same way too. My children cry that they “are bored” if the internet goes out. And the clean water thing. I have a friend who had a major life change over ten years ago and moved to Ghana to help with their water. I hate to let any waste. Old water found in bottles or a tea kettle, I take outside to the plants. Glad you had a nice trip — not any hurricanes this year thankfulyl (in the Gulf anyway.)

    1. Lisha Fink Post author

      One of my sons went on a mission trip to Nicaragua a few years ago to bring fresh water and “modern” bathrooms to mountain villages that had never had access to clean water. At the tender age of 17, he learned a lesson many Americans never do. Thanks for visiting, Jamie!

  9. kimtb

    And that is why travel is so important, for all of us. To live, or even have a small experience, in each other’s worlds, and to be able to share it. Thank you.

    1. Lisha Fink Post author

      Indeed, Kimtb. My kids have traveled all their lives, to wonderful vacation destinations and third world countries alike. It’s a greater education than the can get in a classroom.

  10. Kelly

    This a beautiful post. God puts so much into showing us when we get off key. Life lesson for me today is don’t take anything for granted. Life can leave at a blink of an eye. Love you girl!


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