Years ago when I was cranky or ill-behaved or just downright nasty, my mother would send me to my room to count my blessings. This was pretty routine. Sometimes she would give vague instructions – “go to your room and count your blessings” and I knew I didn’t really have to count anything, just shut up and not come out for an hour or so. Other times the instructions were much more specific “go to your room and get out a piece of paper and write on that paper at least 10 things you are grateful for and do not even think about thinking about coming back out here with that attitude and without that list!” Add a “young lady” and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I resented the whole process. It was never easy. Write a list of things I’m grateful for??? Are you kidding me?? What did I have to be grateful for? Maybe the fact that my mother and father didn’t birth ANOTHER sibling other than my evil sister who wouldn’t let me play with her record player? Maybe I could be grateful that my mother only made cube steak once a week instead of twice? It was all absurd. I knew a tortured individual when I was one. But arguing wouldn’t make it go away and (I knew from experience) would only increase the required size of the list so I’d stomp off to my room, slam the door and throw myself dramatically on my bed to sulk. After 12 seconds, once sulking got old, I would dig out the paper and begin my list.
1. I’m alive
I always started with that. Mostly because it was the easiest and only thing I could think of in my oppressed state. I often considered breaking out “I’m alive” into multiple points like 1) I’m breathing 2) My heart is beating 3) My brain is functioning, etc. but even then I was smart enough to know if I had handed THAT list to my mother item number 3 would come under serious questioning.
Item 2 usually had something to do with my pets. Items 3 and 4 were often about friends or the sky or nature … the key here was to write ANYTHING other than “my family” in the top 5. Vindictive, wasn’t i?
Eventually, however, they would make the list. Of course they would. Along with other things as well. Eventually my stubbornness would give a little and I would admit I had many many things to be grateful for. Eventually I would realize what a super life I had. I was loved, cared for, laughed with (and at). I was fed and clothed and schooled. I had friends and pets and toys and activities to do on the weekend. I was one lucky kid. So I would create the list and show my face – sans attitude – to my mother again. The list always worked. The list changed my attitude. The list was a good thing.
Moms. They pretty much know what they are doing most of the time.
I realize now what an important skill it is to be able to count your blessings. And it is a skill, I believe, like drawing or singing or parallel parking … you may be born with a natural ability toward it but you can improve it. It just takes practice. And, like any other skill, the more you do it, the easier it is.
I’ve been given some interesting circumstances lately. No one would argue that I’ve had some tough times over the past 6 months. It has hit me in every area of my life – emotionally, physically, mentally, financially, spiritually – all of them. One of the most interesting things about it is the intermittency of it. One week I feel like road kill, the next I feel fine, the next I’m back in hell and the next … hey howdy guess who’s queen of the mountain? It’s crazy and it offers a unique perspective. Because I cycle so quickly from feeling good to feeling bad I’m keenly aware of what I have when I have it. When I feel good, I am amazed just how good I feel. And yet, the feeling bad is still within reach. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s sort of like when you are freezing cold and you jump in a warm shower and the water feels so good and warm but you still feel the cold. You know what I mean? The water is hot on your skin. And the warmth is seeping into you even though you are still, in many ways, very cold. The water never feels better – almost too good – than at that moment. You are completely aware of the water. The strange thing is, you take a shower EVERY DAY and you never notice that same warmth. It’s the same water, the same temperature but the cold somehow affects the warmth. It just feels so good.
Sort of like that.
More than once during this experience, when I start to feel alive again in my off weeks, I’ve turned to someone and said “I can’t believe you people feel like this all the time!” and I can’t. I cannot wrap my mind around how good we have it most of time. I cannot grasp the beauty of breathing and the sheer warmth of being alive. To be able to think clearly and breathe without pain and eat a scrambled egg that actually tastes like an egg and not like a plate of pennies. To walk out of my house and be able to take the steps two at a time and move quickly without my bones feeling like they will bust. To read a story and get it, follow it, enjoy it. To have a conversation and hear the rise and fall of a friend’s voice and the throaty laughter and return that laughter. It’s too much. It’s too amazing. And the most amazing thing is this – that feeling, that wonder, that gratitude slips away so quickly. After a day or two of feeling good, I’m right back to taking feeling good for granted. Just like that, it is gone. I’m back to the daily shower and happily trudging through life.
I want to find a way to keep it. I want to hold on to that glee.
Is this perhaps the role pain plays in our lives? A black backdrop against which colors shine so brightly?
And if so, shouldn’t we be grateful then for pain? Grateful for hardship? Grateful for sisters who refuse to share and families that don't understand? What kind of blessings list would that be? One that includes pain and death and cancer and heartache. And cube steak. Is this what it takes for us, for me, to see it? To really see it? Is this what it takes to know you are blessed beyond measure?
My father’s death when I was 15
My painful marriage in which I thought I would lose myself
My chronic back pain that gnaws at me late at night
A botched adoption
All blessings in of themselves. All experiences not be endured but to be embraced. Not additions to your minus column of life but additions to the plus column. To be grateful, not for just what the pain shows us, but for the pain itself.
Isn’t that something?