Once More to Gratitude

About five years ago, I was sitting outside a coffee shop with my cousin on a grey spring afternoon. We watched as a leather-clad, bearded man rolled up on his motorcycle. As he dismounted, a similarly-attired man greeted him from a wooden bench:

“How’s it going today?”

To which the newcomer replied:

“It’s going great! I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life!”

My cousin and I looked at each other, delighted by this unexpected exchange. So simple, and such a brilliant reminder to treat every day as if it is the only one we have. After all, it IS the only day we have.

I know that we can’t all be Pollyanna 24 hours a day and that we can’t live each day as recklessly as if it were our last. It’s impossible and unrealistic, and to anyone reading this as an indictment of not being perfect and perfectly grateful every moment, remember who writes this blog. 🙂 Some clients of mine used to resent my mentions of gratitude, letting me know that they have no interest in being grateful at the moment. When I trot out the importance of gratitude with some of my friends who are struggling, I wonder whether they feel I’m trivializing their pain.

The thing about gratitude is that it can shrink or expand depending on where we are in life. When things are obviously great, it can be pretty easy to access. Landing your dream job, having meaningful relationships, or a trip to Costa Rica lend themselves fairly easily to gratitude, though even then we sometimes stray from what is to what could be.

Then, there are the darker times. Times when we congratulate ourselves because we had a shower and that’s the most productive thing we’ll do all day. Loved ones’ diagnoses. Fear of where the next meal is coming from. In these times, and times of addictions, chronic pain, injustice, war, unkindness, abuse, and the terror of what we are doing to the planet, it seems harder to lead with gratitude. We grieve, we vent, we isolate, we wallow in regret. We glare at people who suggest we have things to be grateful for. Really, there’s nothing to be grateful about.

But here’s where gratitude gets back to the basics. The very basics. Gratitude begins as essentially an anatomy and physiology lesson. It can be found in your beating heart, which I’m going to assume you have and which does its job steadily while you go about your day and night. Gratitude can be found in your kidneys that let you excrete waste without dialysis and your liver which purges toxins. It’s in your limbs, which let you move around and do what needs doing. It’s in your hands, perfect for throwing balls and measuring out cumin and picking up a baby. The senses. . . the marvel of vision! Of being able to read and see animals and faces and navigate and be independent. Hearing Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Tasting chocolate, hugging someone, smelling peppermint.

Then there’s abundant food, clean air, drinkable water, laughter, memories, a warm place to sleep in the cold, the presence of dogs and elephants and songbirds on the planet, green trees, the sun on our faces, chilly winter air. . . The list is endless, and life a menu of choices. We might not have access to all of the menu items, but we all have some, and we can be grateful for those. Life isn’t (and let’s remember, will never be) perfect, but as the guy on the motorcycle knew, we all have so much to be grateful for if we just look for it.