Musings on Gratitude

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. It’s my favorite holiday. No gift buying. Just good food and good people. It’s a time when we all focus on what we are thankful for. What’s not to love about that?

I have long maintained that an attitude of gratitude is what we need to get along, And I think that attitude should be maintained all year round, not just on Thanksgiving day. There’s much in this life that we can be thankful for.

I’ve written a great deal about gratitude. So much, in fact, that I’ve published an anthology entitled, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. It’s available on Amazon, and I guarantee you that I’ll be grateful if you purchase it! It would make a great gift for the ones you are most grateful for. (Especially if you do want to give someone a gift for cooking all that great food for you on the big day.)

Having said that, check out one of my favorite posts from the book, entitled Congratulations, You’re Alive! and know that I’m grateful for you, dear reader, every single day.

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Gratitude Alarm

I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, my phone is just about as stupid as they come in this modern world. But hey, it only costs me about 5 bucks a month, so as far as I’m concerned, that makes me pretty darned smart.

Living in this state of self-imposed technological deprivation, I know nothing about apps. There may already be an app for this, but if not, there really should be. I would call this app the “gratitude alarm”. It would instruct your phone to set off a gentle alarm at random, completely unanticipated times throughout your day. The alarm would remind you to stop what you’re doing and look about you, and really appreciate your place in the now.

Too often, we forget to do this. Sometimes you need to just enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face. Don’t take your current experience for granted. Be grateful for the people you are having lunch with, and for the food on your plate. Embrace the experience of that crowded subway, as it’s taking you where you want to go. Appreciate the fact that you have a job when so many others do not. Admire that flowering “weed” that you might have otherwise overlooked.

I suspect that if people were to use this app for just a few weeks, they’d see a shift in their attitude for the better. After a while, the app would no longer be needed. An attitude of gratitude can become a delightful habit if you let it.

For now, pretend this blog post is your alarm. Stop right now. Look around. Be grateful.

alarm

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Good for You…

Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way. Someone I love has just had the best thing happen to him. I mean, the kind of luck that only strikes you about as often as lightning. And I’m so happy for him it brings tears to my eyes. But.

At the same time, I kind of feel resentful. I can’t help but see his good fortune as casting a painful glare on the hurdles I still have to jump over with my rapidly decreasing energy and flagging determination.

Ugh. I’m a horrible person. I should simply be thrilled for my friend. And where do I get off with the “poor me” attitude when there are so many people in this world who have it worse off than I do?

But I resent that, too–the idea that I can’t be bitter and frustrated unless I’m the most unfortunate person on the planet. Can’t I at least have my angst? I don’t get to have that, either?

Dammit, I want the dream job in Hawaii. I want the winning lottery ticket. I want the clean bill of health, the chance to travel the world, the man of my dreams, the fame, the fortune, the luck…

Most of all, I want the right to throw an inner tantrum even as I am sincerely thrilled for someone else. I want that dichotomy to be easy to take as well as being socially acceptable. I want to understand it and own it without feeling the need to blog it out of my system. Is that really too much to ask?

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Perspective

This country is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not getting any younger. I’ll never be able to afford to retire or own a home again. And I’ve pretty much given up on romance.

If you’re looking, it’s usually not hard to find things to be discouraged about. In fact, it’s pretty easy. It’s also a really bad habit to fall into.

What good does it do you, driving 90 mph down a dead end road? Where does it get you? Nowhere.

That’s why I was really grateful to see the following meme pop up on my Facebook feed the other day.

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Whoa. Perspective. By this yardstick, I’m doing really well. I have what I need. Everything is going to be all right.

It’s a sad state of affairs that so many people on this planet do not have all ten of these things. It’s even more distressing to contemplate the fact that it’s those of us who are this lucky who get so worked up when those of us who are less fortunate try to join our exclusive little club. Why are we so threatened by other people’s prosperity?

For example, I’ve heard people say that fast food workers should not be allowed to make 15 dollars an hour because they themselves make 15 dollars an hour, and had to get a college degree to get there. How does the fact that the girl at the drive through window is now making a living wage harm you in any way? Isn’t making her wear a hair net punishment enough? How about saying, “Welcome aboard. And yes, I will have fries with that. Thanks.”

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Thoughts on Gratitude

I’ve been thinking about gratitude quite a bit lately. In fact, it’s going to be the subject of my first anthology. As a topic it’s much more complex and richly nuanced than I first thought.

I’m finding that the more I view my life in terms of gratitude, the more blessings I seem to receive. There’s something about the mere act of sincerely acknowledging the abundance in your life, putting it out there in the universe that you realize that these things are gifts, not privileges. This seems to attract even more abundance.

The more pragmatic side of me thinks that it’s not actually that you’re getting more positivity. It’s more that you’re becoming attuned to the largesse that was always there. Perhaps you have just taken it for granted, or have been focused on the more negative aspects of your life.

Crunchy granola gifts or clear-eyed perspective? Either way, I’ll take it! Thank you. More, please.

While discussing this with friends, I was asked, “Can gratitude ever be inappropriate?” That question intrigued me quite a bit. I suspect that gratitude in general is very influenced by the culture in which you find yourself. People in some countries just seem to be much more instinctively gracious than those in others.

Is one viewpoint better than another? The fact that we have coined terms such as “obsequious”, with its seemingly negative connotations, would lead one to believe that there is such a thing as too much gratitude.

I tend to think that any gratitude, if sincere and genuine, is not misplaced. But who am I to judge? I’m just happy to be here!

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Gratitude

Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my ribcage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.

I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.

But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.

In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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[Image credit: sonpareja.com]

Last Day

Late last year my favorite person in the whole world had a stroke. Ever since then she’s had several seizures, another stroke, and has been in and out of comas. When she did come to, she was completely confused, and, basically, “not there”. Although her body lingered on, I was already mourning the loss of her essence. For all intents and purposes I had given up hope for my Aunt Betty. Even if I had lived next door rather than 3000 miles away, I knew we’d never gossip and joke again, and that devastated me.

Then the other day I was on Facebook and her daughter-in-law contacts me via her I-phone. She says Aunt Betty is walking and talking again! She sends me a photo of her, and she looks great.

The head cold that had been stopping up my sinuses so completely that I wasn’t convinced I even had nostrils promptly disappeared, and it hasn’t come back. It was a miracle. Because I was given back the person I love most!

She asks if I want to text with her. God, yes! And we chatted for about 15 minutes. It was definitely her. We have insider jokes and ways of talking that can’t be replicated. It felt like she had been resurrected. It brought tears to my eyes.

I knew that this was a gift that I shouldn’t take for granted. Who knows how long it will last. So I made a point of telling her everything I wanted to tell her but couldn’t all these past months. “I think of you every day.” “I love you very much.” “You are my favorite person in the world.” “I’ve always been very grateful to have you in my life.”

And what really, really got to me was that she told me she was proud of me. That’s a huge deal. At seminal moments in the 24 years since my mother passed away, I’ve often wondered if she would be proud of me, and of course there’s no way to know. So hearing that from Aunt Betty, the next best thing to a mother, meant everything to me.

They will be moving her to a less intensive part of the hospital soon, and hopefully she’ll then have a phone in her room. But in the meantime, my sister and I sent her flowers. I figured she could use some color to offset all that New England snow. I’ll also be sending her some photographs.

But I’m still in shock. Things like this just don’t happen. A dear friend of mine would call it a mitzvah. All I know is I’m beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to say all those things that I needed to say to her. Because of that, whatever happens now, I’ll be at peace.

And this profound life lesson got me thinking. Technically I have that gift with everyone I love. They’re still here. But they won’t always be. I should make the effort to tell everyone what I need to tell them as if it’s their last day on earth.

Actually I’ve always known that on some level, but I take people for granted. It’s a bad habit that many of us have. So I decided to invent a holiday for myself. I’m calling it Last Day. I’m going to celebrate it on the last day of every month, because that will be easy to remember, until such time as it becomes such a habit that I don’t need to designate a special day.

On Last Day, I’m going to make an effort to tell people I love just how much they mean to me. I’m going to do it until they’re sick of hearing it. I’m going to talk to these people as if this is our last day together, ever. Because some day, inevitably, it will be. But this is not meant to be a depressing holiday. Not at all. It’s a celebration, because I’ve been given the gift of knowing how important these conversations are.

May I never forget.

Happy Last Day, dear reader, and thank you for making this blog so special.

Betty's Flowers

[Aunt Betty’s flowers via ftd.com]

Taking on Extra Passengers

Yes, I’m traveling across country. No, I’m not picking up hitchhikers. I’d never do that. I want to live. But as the miles of asphalt roll beneath my wheels, I’m ever mindful of all the people I have pulling for me on this trip.

There are the many people who have contributed to my Indiegogo Campaign, or were kind enough to spread the word about it on their Facebook pages. So many of them are people I have never met face to face, or whom I haven’t interacted with in decades. But their support is more than just financial. It’s a vote of confidence. It says to me, “You can do this. With a little help from your friends.” I am forever grateful for these acts of generosity, and I vow to pay them forward someday.

There are also the friends who couldn’t help financially, but were there emotionally. That’s priceless, too. In the midst of melt downs, when I despaired of finding a place to live, when I lost my car, when self-doubt crept in, they kept me grounded.

Then there’s my amazing sister, who has gotten to see me on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and has chosen to make me laugh instead. She also gave me her car. Again. And money. Again. And is helping me move. Again. None of this would have been possible without her and her husband. Nothing I do in life to thank them will ever come close.

Then there are all the people who are helping me along the way by letting me sleep on their couches. And there are the many friends-to-be out in Seattle who have given me advice on how to effectively live out there. One person even looked at the house I ultimately chose to rent. A total stranger. Just because I was in need. And there’s the employer who chose to hire me sight unseen.

All these people, every single one, is with me in spirit as I drive across the continent. I can feel them urging me ever onward, encouraging me forward. Because of them I am not alone. It’s an amazing feeling that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

But you guys will have to pay for your own hotel rooms. Just sayin’. A girl has got to draw the line somewhere.

Beary good friends

[Image credit: parentlink.cc]

Have an Awful Day

It’s fascinating how the definition of some words evolves over time to signify the opposite of their original meaning. Awful originally meant “full of awe.” I miss that definition. If we allowed awful to fulfill its original role, people would stop saying awesome. I, for one, would be thrilled, because awesome is a word which annoys me for purely aesthetic reasons, although I admit I have resorted to using it more than once myself.

But as usual, I digress. I would like you, dear reader, to have a day full of awe. Take a moment every once in a while today to come to a complete halt. If you need a reminder to do this thing that is so foreign to your routine, set the alarm on your cell phone if you must, but take the opportunity to let this fast-paced world in which we live swirl around you and past you while you stand still and look around. Become the still point in the turning world. You will be amazed at what you see.

I’m talking about stopping to smell the roses writ large. Appreciate the flowers at your feet, yes, but also the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and the clothes upon your back and the food on your plate. Be grateful for your health if you have it, and your friends and your coworkers and the fact that you get to be here, right here, right now, breathing and living. That’s a very significant accomplishment, and it takes a lot of intricate things falling into place just right in order for it to be possible.

Appreciate the complexity of life. Appreciate the simplicity of life. Realize that graffiti can often be beautiful and even the most irritating situation has something to teach you. Use all five of your senses if you can, and enjoy the fact that you have them.

It would be easy to take the next step and start talking about spirituality and higher powers and all the religious trappings that go with those. But for this moment, this “right here”, just this once, don’t focus on that. Just concentrate on feeling the awe of this amazing gift you’ve been given, without trying to read the return address on the package.

Here’s wishing you a truly, wondrously, spectacularly awful day!

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[Image credit: magicalthinkingbook.com]

My Prayer

I am grateful this day for the rain that sustains me

    for the sun that nurtures me, for the wind that buffets me.

 I wish to give back more than I take from this world,

value more than that which is has been given me

and shore up that which has always endured me.

May I always gaze at the stars and feel joy

for my minuscule part in the limitless universe.

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(Image credit: apod.nasa.gov)