Today, Dear Friends, I'm Grateful For...
Facebook, February 17, 2015, 8:14 a.m.:
"Today, I am grateful for...
Patrick. Being bathed in blinding sunlight. Creativity. Scoring the best pair of winter boots at the Goodwill in Delaware. A job that means something. What are you grateful for today? Let's chat!"
If hope is the thing with feathers, then gratitude must be the thing with roots. Have you ever expressed your thanks to someone, for something, and felt like you hadn't completely exhausted your vocabulary, even reached into other languages to find the most form-fitting word or phrase to let that someone know just how deeply grateful you were?
Happens to me all the time. Almost daily. And I'm not even bilingual. I know enough Spanish to order a meal and find the town square, and a handful of American Sign Language. Still, the roots of my gratefulness remain just below the unexpressed surface. Perhaps it's my life's work, to explore just how many ways I can say "thank you". Cool. I can do that.
And so I started, back in February of 2015. Not prompted by any particular event, or scientific research on the health benefits of a thankful heart. I was new to Facebook (again, late to every party. Facebook started...when? 2004?), hesitant to put too much of myself out there due to my wrapped-tight private nature, and I'd read somewhere that folks were keeping gratitude journals, writing five things they were grateful for on a daily basis. I suspect the number was arbitrary, and I liked that I could offer up a handful of thanks each day, and still keep the other hand on the steering wheel.
So I let thoughts come to me rather randomly, from my perch on the couch, with my laptop resting comfortable on my, well, lap, the sun yet to make its appearance over the tree line past the 17-acre old cornfield. Patrick. Yep, definitely grateful for him. Being bathed in blinding sunlight. Hey, sunlight in February? You bet your britches I was grateful for that. Creativity. Check. To my right at the time was a studio filled with all manner of crafting implements, from fabric and thread to book board and handmade paper, with jars of beads almost too colorful and numerous to count. When a day ended heavy and unfinished on my mind, I could come home and sink into my supplies until I emerged with a completed item in my thankful hands.
Scoring the best pair of winter boots from the Goodwill in Delaware. Timberlands. For all I could tell, barely, if ever, worn, and a perfect fit (hard to find for this 6 1/2 size gal). I still have them, and do they ever look loved. They are.
A job that means something. I've been in volunteer resources management for going on 36 years now--pretty much all my professional life (with the exception of one brief stint at a health club, folding towels in the women's locker room. It lasted three days. When I caught a glimpse of a former neighbor in a state of undress, it was time to go. I'm still not ready to talk about it yet). In the simplest of descriptions, I connect people who want to help with people or causes that need help. I've done that work in a variety of settings, from parochial schools to faith communities, to national organizations. At the time I included that in the February 17 Facebook post, I was in a hospice setting, working with surviving family members and others in the community who wanted, from the depths of their grateful hearts, to comfort someone else as they themselves had been comforted, in their poignant time of need and vulnerability. What an honor, to stand in that middle place, between gratitude and grief, appreciation and exhaustion, and make the introductions. I direct the traffic of selflessness.
Those five "things" came to me rather easily that February morning at 8:14, and I've kept that List of Five going since then, missing only one day (October 8. 2015. I'll explain in a future post), and, get this--not repeating anything. Sure, I've been grateful for Patrick's many different qualities in subsequent posts, and have included enough food and meal descriptions to publish a cookbook, but...I've found something different to give thanks for each and every day since February 17, 2015. Forgive me if this sounds a bit self-congratulatory, but I think that's pretty cool. I have no plans to stop. Quite frankly, I don't think I could. Through the simple morning ritual of sharing a short list of "grateful for's" in a rather public place, I've learned that gratitude is as necessary as inhaling and exhaling always have been.
Sometimes, I suspect folks may draw conclusions about my life or my outlook, as they read through these daily five. Of course, what others think of me is none of my business, but I do feel compelled to make the point that my life is as filled with struggle and pain as anyone else's. The List of Five isn't a denial of those experiences. If you only knew, and if I were courageous enough to spill the backstories to some of those posts, I would hope you'd nod in understanding that life is a both/and proposition, and that I've chosen the thankful approach to guide me through my days. Gratitude has no chance trying to grow in an either/or mindset. Indeed, gratitude has its deepest roots below the layers of hardship, when we pushed through the gut-wrenching and the unimaginable-turned-real, carrying a small flame of "thank God we have each other", or whatever we're thankful for in the moment, to light the way to the other side. However worn and well-used, gratefulness is a sturdy, enduring tool in our traveling set of coping skills. It's wise to keep it oiled and ready to hand.
It's not always easy to call these five up. And I will admit that not having listed any item more than once, I'm now driven to maintain that self-imposed standard (I'm fairly certain I'm the only one tracking that, the only one who cares). Some days, I have to pull myself back from needing the words to be arranged most poetically and just say it like it is. In those posts, you'll see the end result of that struggle: I'm grateful for dental floss, a window fan, or being able to flex my toes. Simple things still speak the loudest.
But when I return from my daily walk with the land, it's just as challenging to keep the list to five (another self-imposed standard that is quite practical. I could keep going beyond five things, and then I'd be late for work). Waves of gratitude wash over me as I move through the meadow to the open field to the dark woods. Seriously. I can barely catch it all, much less put it into words. The bird calls, the always-different cloud formations at sunrise, a mysterious absence of mosquitoes and no-see-ums...if I stood still for too long, I might drown in the wonder of it all. I gather what I can and let the remaining steps back to the house become a rhythmic companion to how the words form in my head. That's where the poetry comes from.
There's been plenty written about the helpfulness of developing a daily gratitude practice, and it's mostly good and well-researched, so I'll leave you to find that on your own. However you come to your thankfulness, I encourage you to start. Or continue. It's simultaneously personal and portable, a great way to sharpen your wordsmith-ing abilities, and good nourishment for your supportive relationships, starting with yourself.
Look closely, and deeply, at the life you've gathered around you. Surely there are at least five aspects, elements, comforts that have eased a burden, given you a spritz of spiritual Bactine for your skinned soul. Start with those. Then, go through the rest of your day and collect some more.
Most days, it's simple.
Gather. List. Repeat.
You're most welcome to check out my Facebook page, where the daily List of Five appears, usually before 8:00a.m. Later on the weekends.
And if you feel so moved, please share in your comments for this blog post what you're grateful for today. I'd love to read them, and celebrate them with you.