The Struggle To Be Grateful When You Aren’t

Around the age of 31, I started a new ritual; waking up and announcing my gratitude aloud.

It seemed silly and I didn’t even say it aloud at first, worried my bedroom furniture would judge me as some new-age, hippy-dippy, crystal worshiping doofus. The improvement was immediate though not significant. I in fact, didn’t realize its subtle influence on me until I slipped a few days in a row and didn’t speak it—-things started frustrating me again.

That simple one off, non double blind, non recorded clinical trial was enough to fix in my mind that speaking my gratitude each morning made a difference in my life. The simple mantra had a positive effect on my attitude most days and after a short while, I noticed a genuine improvement in my condition (physical, emotional, and socially).

Flash forward 20 years, and I have found myself lapsing in that practice. Like so many mornings over the past year, I’ve attempted, though have been unable to say “thank you” to the world. In fact, I’ve found myself deeply resentful of the world, my life, its dreams and aspirations—-repressed grief and anger have replaced gratitude.

I’m not unaware of the effect this has had on my mood (of course, it’s my wife’s cancer, her pain while in treatments, and the fear of what’s careening toward us that has done the most damage to my mood), but carrying anger, grief, sadness and not finding anything to be grateful for is like pouring acid into a wound; there is no medical benefit but at least it hurts like hell.

I tried to be grateful this morning. Like attempting to wish a splinter out of your finger by focusing, straining in some pointless, constipated exercise, trying to will gratitude from an angry heart is a waste of precious energy. And it’s a brutal, frontal reminder of how miserable you are.

Me: What do I have to be grateful for today?
Universe: …uhhhh
Me: Yeah. Nothing. Not a damned thing.
Universe: By the way, there’s a new nest of carpenter bees in the soffit.
Me: … screw you.

Anger, grief, anxiety…these things are not fuel for the soul—they burn up too fast or turn to poison that eats you away from the inside. But how can you become grateful when you can find nothing to be grateful for? And even if there were some tiny thing you might latch onto that’s thanks-worthy, how could it possibly be enough to bubble through the cauldron of bile and bitterness cooked up by a two year ride into life altering tragedy….a slow motion train wreck…a drip, drip drip, of fear and grief that is only going to get worse (and it will get worse—-it’s going to get much worse).

I was at a loss. So as I sat there on the steps of our terrace this morning, having finished my first cigarette of the day, and with tears rolling down my face, I closed my eyes. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and asked “why?”

I listened for a reply, gritting my teeth, fists clenched, and ready to be angry at the answer. Then a breeze slipped through the trees, creating a soft hiss. It was gentle…nothing magical…just a breeze. But it slipped past me bringing the scent of blossoms from the branches.

It was just a moment of peace. There was no healing miracle, no voice from fairies or angels…it was just a peaceful moment that slipped between the cracks of my grief and softened my heart.  I was spontaneously grateful—-so, I said “thank you”.

It won’t change our path. It won’t heal cancer. It won’t stop anyone from hurting…but it did make a difference in my day, saying thank you…being grateful. This is the first blog post I’ve written since March 28th. It’s the first time since then that I’ve even been tempted to write on the subject despite the many personal requests from readers and friends. So it’s clear, finding something to be grateful for can move you in small ways. And those small ways can add up.

I can’t remove the grief or pain or fear from our lives. My one true love is sick—-this is going to hurt epically. But maybe I can dull the edge on the cutting things. Maybe I can add a moment of joy where none would’ve been otherwise. And maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t crazy 20 years ago when I started waking up and saying “Gratitude”.

Thank you for reading. 🙂

 

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4 thoughts on “The Struggle To Be Grateful When You Aren’t

  1. Those two last paragraphs prove you are wise beyond your years, my hurting friend. Small comfort now, if any at all, I know; but true nonetheless. As always, my best wishes ….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wish I could somehow take the heaviness away and give you added strength. All I can do is pray for more of the ‘breezes’ to touch you and your precious Gretel. And I will say words of gratitude for you and Gretel that you can’t. Peace…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I shared this on Facebook with these words: This moving post is written by a blogger I follow. I do now know this man other than through his words. His words today are powerful and personal. I don’t know his faith practice but I know mine. Pray for him and his beloved wife. Like the writer, we all have a “why” in our lives. May you be blessed with the breath of hope, whoever you are and wherever you are on your journey.

    Mr. Shelton, you are courageous to write from your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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