I overheard a woman today complaining that her husband was “too cheap to buy a generator” and she and her kids had been stuck in the house all week, bored out of their minds. Her husband had suggested she go up to their house in Vermont, “but load three dogs and the kids into the car and go stare at trees? I don’t think so.” She didn’t mention towing the five horses she also owns up there – perhaps her husband would have been delegated to care for them down here, but either way, this was a very unhappy woman. Too bad.
My social circle is mostly comprised of men and women who have survived personal calamity in our lives and, on the whole, we all seem to have weathered this past week pretty well. I blame gratitude. Most of us compose some sort of gratitude list before going to sleep or upon arising, and that simple act of reflection offers surprising strength in times of stress. We’ve been laid low and come back, so there’s an easy platform to build on. Just a restored desire to live is a good starting point, and building from there might include gratitude for actually being alive, maybe a roof over our heads, children, healthy or not, spouses, or no spouses, and so on. One friend of mine tells me that when she’s really stuck finding anything at all to be grateful about she reminds herself that she doesn’t have rickets, and her list can grow from there.
We’re not a bunch of Polyannas; in fact, I think we’re some of the toughest people I know, strengthened by our experiences. And we’re by no means stoics, because life can suck sometimes, and we acknowledge that, and grieve over what that can bring. Certainly we aren’t some band of special people, above the rest of humanity and guided by a spirit received only by us. Any one of the thousands of people down in the devastated boroughs of Manhattan today passing out food and clothing is expressing and acknowledging gratitude, looking past their own self to recognize the need of someone else. And those volunteers, most of them, aren’t part of my group, they’re just fellow humans, fortunate enough to have been graced with perspective.
I do think it’s easier, perhaps, to remember to be grateful when gratitude was once so hard to find. When everything goes well, when life has been one success after another, when our children all get into an Ivy and marry just the right girl or boy and produce perfect, healthy grandchildren, while our personal wealth soars to heaven (where a special place has been reserved just for us), reality may hurt harder because it comes so unexpectedly and, surely, undeservedly.
We’re all going to suffer, it’s an inescapable part of life. People will die, jobs will be lost, houses will burn down and even, God forbid, we can lose access to the Internet for a week. All of those things are easier to accept and wallowing in self-pity easier to avoid, when accompanied by a shot of gratitude.
Or that’s what I’m thinking this sunny Sunday afternoon. Hope you’re all safe and back in your (lighted and heated) homes.