Skill #27 Exercise Your Gratitude: A Paradox

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received.

Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling.

Thanksgiving is the following of  that impulse.

~~Henry Van Dyke

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Honestly, I am having trouble writing this blog today. It’s Wednesday. The Wednesday after the Paris shootings. The Wednesday after my secretary has been out sick for three days. The Wednesday after I got the estimate ($$$)  for a new roof at the office. The Wednesday after two funerals for friends’ mothers. The Wednesday after a good friend of mine got hammered at work, mercilessly hammered. I could go on but I will spare you the list. Today it kind of feels endless.

Oh, I am grateful.  I know how to name my gratitude. I wrote in my journal this morning about all the things for which I am grateful. (Your reading of this blog is one of those things. Seriously. Thank you.) As I took a 4-mile walk before dawn I was speaking my gratitudes out loud. I am grateful I can walk 4 miles. I am grateful that this weekend I will see my father. And next weekend my daughter. I am grateful for a loving, supportive, fun husband. I am always grateful for my dedicated clients, for my cadre of the best friends ever, for a job that allows me to work in the field of personal transformation. Does it get any better than that?

But this angst that is stubbornly rolling around inside of me hasn’t left . As the morning has gone on, I am getting more clarity about it. In addition to being grateful, I am also sad and troubled. And with every gratitude I mentioned out loud, there was an equal, paradoxical, troubling reality. I can name and hold that paradox, but here’s what I am left thinking.

Perhaps we need to do something with our gratitude. Maybe it is not enough, not transformational enough, just to speak or write it to ourselves. It might need to go somewhere, do something.  Gratitude needs to spend some time being a verb.

Henry Van Dyke, in the opening quote, reminds us that Thanksgiving is action. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, “How am I Thanksgiving-ing this week? How am I gratitude-ing this holiday season? How do I “gratitude” throughout the year?”

If I am grateful for my blessings, then what am I doing with that gratitude?

If I am grateful that I live in the United States of America, then what am I doing to show and share my gratitude?

If I am grateful for family, friends, and colleagues, then what am I doing to express that gratitude?

A client, just weeks after losing her spouse, told me that she had come to hate the phrase, “I am praying for you.” As we explored what was going on, it turned out that she felt like that was an easy way out. She wanted prayer, and said she needed prayer. But what she really needed was someone to cut her grass, do her laundry, food shop for her, and someone to get her out of the house. She needed people to put their prayers into action. Don’t panic. We both know prayer, pure prayer, is vital and can change things. But the phrase “I am praying for you” can feel cheap when someone needs action.

The holiday season is upon us. It is the season of gratitude and giving. And that is good. Yet all the research tells us that giving once a year, Thanksgiving-ing once a year, does nothing to permanently change us. How can you put your gratitude into action this week, this month, this holiday season and beyond?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Yesterday my husband and I took my 93 year-old father and his companion to a wedding they wanted to attend. It all went perfectly. Our hyper-vigilence–watching every step, curb, uneven pavement, any potential problem–worked. After a three hour drive home, we unloaded suitcases. My dad was moving some clothes from the guest bed when he tripped over the suitcase we had just laid down. He went down hard, full plank, face first. Blood was spewing, he was cursing, and I was yelling for my husband and kicking off my heels in an effort to get on the floor and figure out what to do next. Despite the blood, he seemed ok and we gently moved him to the couch. After putting ice on the newly forming egg on his head, bandaging the thin-skinned and still bleeding forehead and nose, continuing to check mental status, and fixing him a requested highball, two hours later we all decided it would be ok to head for bed.

I tossed and turned with a nagging feeling that I should check on him. At 3:12 am I opened the bedroom door and saw the TV light on and noise coming from that direction. Dad was sitting in his recliner, sucking in air and moaning. His left hand was covering his right rib and I knew he was hurting. I suspected a broken rib. He refused a trip to the ER, sure that this was nothing that needed middle of the night medical attention. With Dad it is always, ” just a bruise, Honey, nothing to worry about.”  I got him to agree to an urgent care visit when the sun came up. “I need you to go for me, Dad. For my anxiety.” That worked. And it was the truth.

The x-rays show no breaks. Just bad bruising. When we get home I settle dad in his recliner and he starts watching the Panthers play the Redskins.  I walk back to the bedroom with a bottle of Oxi-clean and a towel and start blotting the carpet with my foot, watching little drops of red appear in the white towel. “Thank you, ” I whisper and then choke back a few tears.  “Thank you that I can hear my dad in the other room, coughing and talking. Thank you that I can blot up his blood while I hear that. Thank you that we got through the trip with respect for each other and a good sense of humor. “I’m German,” my dad told the PA. “My head is too hard to be hurt.”  Thank you that I can be here for a few more days to bandage his wounds, stroke his head, rub his back and tell him I love him. I remember this saying.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  Meister Eckhart


Tuesday I will be leaving here to visit a dear friend who has a new and potentially devastating diagnosis. I am also going to see my daughter and I will smother her with hugs and kisses. And I will say thank you. Thank you. And it will be enough.


5 thoughts on “Skill #27 Exercise Your Gratitude: A Paradox”

  1. Dearest Amy. I just came to this particular blog. It is noonish on the first of January and you have brought me to tears. I consider these tears the blessing of You. These words you have written are a guidepost for the year before me. Thank you, dear friend, and with thanksgiving for the blessing of your parents. Timothea

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