It’s raining buckets on our island and our creek is full and rushing along merrily. I could sit there for hours and listen to the busy water.
And I found a patch of mossy grass that was soft and springy and unbelievably green.
And I checked on our chickens and found they had laid eight big eggs today–which is unusual for a dark January when they are all holding onto their energy just to keep warm. I washed the eggs and set them on the counter for tomorrow’s breakfast.
On our way to my daughter’s running team practice, we decided to pull off the road at Eagle Harbor because the sun was glancing off of the water in the most magical way and all the ducks were celebrating in formation.
As I was working through my errands and appointments and interactions with clerks and grocers and neighbors today, I thought about the gifts of everyday life, the ones that we gratefully accept and hold dear.
I think stories aren’t authentic unless they tell a truth of some kind. Those truths can exist even if they are about liars and criminals, the unjust and the untrue, the alien and ridiculous. But truths they must be.
Being able to find things to be grateful for depends on the moment, and the situation, and the lens, which are all interconnected.
And finding gratitude in the midst of crisis is life-saving but not at all a call to cease action to get out of that crisis.
As one of my sweet friends from high school once said after giving me her dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and encouraging me to embark on a gratitude list: “Start with your socks. Be grateful you have socks.” You may need to start even smaller, or you might start somewhere quite grand. But it’s your gratitude, and yours alone. And that is special.
For me, gifts often become most apparent after tragedy. At least, in my humble opinion. They are gifts all the same, tragedy or not. You can have intense gratitude in the midst of bliss, or even in the middle of uninterrupted boredom because nothing of significance has happened and Thank Goodness. You can be aware of this gratitude in a most deep and abiding way and still not feel the same sense of gratitude as when you have a raw need for it. I hope you get what I mean.
In 2017, an unimaginable thing happened. I struggled so much to find my own strength and reacquaint myself with my own well-honed resilience that I worked with a friend to make a list of things to do to lift myself out of myself. You have to understand that up to that tragedy I was a circling storm of action, a get-it-done-now sort of force on many levels–house, job, kids, property, gardens. And then everything exploded.
This was my list that I put together with my friend:
- Open the door.
- Walk down to the chicken coop.
- Let out the chickens.
- Look up to see the state of the sky.
- Turn around in a 360-degree circle to take everything in.
- Walk to the garden and gather food.
- Throw a stick for Luna (our dog).
- Notice the beauty in the natural world around you.
- Breathe again.
- Walk around the yard.
- Notice the air on your skin.
- Go back inside.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Continue normal life.
As simple as this list is, there were some important elements in it: The first is that it was a list of things I knew made me feel better, not a prescribed list cobbled together by someone who didn’t know me. And I knew these things helped me: 1) nature, 2) movement, 3) breathing, 4) looking up and around instead of sitting with hands folded in a fixed state.
Also: Walking and talking with trusted friends. A wonderful doctor. Therapy. Good food. Reading. Journaling. Cooking. Gardening, always–the feel of dirt on my skin and green leaves under my fingertips were always enough to bring me back to myself.
Social media didn’t help. Sitting didn’t help. Trying to sleep didn’t help.
On December 31, 2017, surrounded by friends around a bonfire, I wrote everything on slips of paper and burned every crumpled piece. All the bad went up in smoke. I will never return to it again. Not ever.
The thing that helped the most, as I look back over the year and try to put it into its most salient form, is a feeling of complete and utter openness–shedding other people’s expectations, and especially my own. That’s where the Leonard Cohen quote comes in that I put on the wall of my writing studio: “The birds they sang at the break of day, Start again, I heard them say, Don’t dwell on what has passed away, Or what is yet to be, Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
If you are forced to see that you can’t really control the outcome (despite all the things you can control through daily choices that build over time), and that the world is a constantly shifting network of paths, and that fairy tales have broken bits in them, too, then you are free.
And these, the gifts that come and go like breathing, are the ones that glue the big moments together.
From my super-strong self to your super-strong self, I wish you a beautiful night. Maybe, if you feel like it, you might decide to write down some of the things you’re grateful for. But then again you might do that all the time and that’s why you are here reading this in its entirety right down to this last line.